(Author's Note: So, here we are. First things first, I have to apologize to everyone who enjoyed my story so much that this last chapter is coming so late. I wish I had a good excuse, but I don't. While it's true that work picked up and family trips and illness happened, I could have had this story done. For a few months there, it became harder and harder to type words down for the story; I'd lost the drive to finish it. It loomed over my head every day, and yet I was completely devoid of the will to get it finished, for both myself and the many that liked it. Needless to say, I eventually got my head out of my butt, and I just hope that the chapter isn't too late. Second, I'm not completely closing the door on some sort of epilogue at a later date, but when I envisioned the story, this was how I wanted it to end. If I do write anything as a P.S. to this piece, it will be something extra, like a post-credits scene in a movie. Third, I have to give mad shoutouts to Bread-Kun for encouraging me to get this damn thing finished, and to Rennaku, Shipping Mammals, and KohGeek for editing this last, enormous chapter to make it the best it could be. Last, I'm very proud of this story and what I've been able to accomplish, but a word of warning to aspiring authors: stick to a schedule. The first week I deviated from my writing schedule was the beginning of me losing interest in writing. Even when it gets hard, the best writers still write. In the words of Darkest Dungeon, overconfidence is a slow, and insidious killer. Stick to a schedule - you'll be happy that you did. Overwrought apologies and lecturing out of the way, enjoy the chapter :D)
"You know, I don't think I've ever beaten you that badly," Judy teased, skipping her way back to their parking duty cart. Nick always thought it looked more like a pompous golf cart, but Judy maintained that it was a proud member of the ZPD vehicle fleet. Her assurances did little to assuage how silly he felt riding shotgun, though.
"What can I say, Fluff, guess I was having an off day," he replied, shrugging his shoulders. The sun was beginning to dip below the taller skyscrapers in Savanna Central, casting a pale yellow glow around them.
"Oh, it was an off day, alright," she said. "You looked like you were falling asleep out there! I must have at least doubled your tickets."
Nick rolled his eyes. "Carrots, you know quotas are illegal, right? You take a little too much pride in sending mammals to traffic court," he chuckled.
"Hey, I'm not trying to reach a quota, I'm just…" she paused, searching for the right word.
"Insane?" Nick offered.
That earned a smirk from her partner. "Sure, efficient, let's go with that," he said.
Judy looked up at him, her eyes narrowed. "You know, if I didn't know any better, I'd say you weren't even trying back there," she said. The pair stepped inside their cart; Nick always had to duck his head to make sure he didn't bump it against the roof. "You weren't just letting me win, were you?"
Nick sat straight up after hearing her accusation, momentarily forgetting about the height of the cart. His head banged off the thin aluminum roof, which drew several mumbled curses out of his muzzle.
"What? No, you beat me fair and square, Fluff. It's not my fault not even the most stupendous fox cop around can keep up with the fastest meter maid in the city," Nick said, struggling to maintain his composure under her withering stare. I bet Bogo in his prime wasn't as intimidating as her, he thought, massaging his ears from the impact with the ceiling.
"So, you're saying you definitely put in your best effort? Because if I find out you went easy on me-"
"Carrots, c'mon, you think I would do that to you?" he interrupted. "I tried to keep up, but gosh darnit, you just ran laps around me."
Inwardly, he hated lying to Judy, and he did try that afternoon. Somewhat, anyway. C'mon, Jude, just drop it and let me take you to dinner, he thought.
Judy glared at him for a few more moments while sirens went off in Nick's head.
"Well, I guess you did get some tickets, at least," she said, her stare steadily becoming less accusatory. "Best meter maid in the city, huh? I guess flattery does work on me."
Nick exhaled and settled back into his seat in a vain attempt to get comfortable. "Yeah, you got me good, Carrots. Guess dinner is on me, then."
Judy's ears drooped a bit. "Aw, Nick, I was mostly kidding when I said that," she replied. "You don't need to spend any money on me. We both know neither of us makes a lot."
For the second time in half a minute, Nick saw his master plan failing to take off and exploding on the runway. His mind raced, trying to recover from the most recent curveball Judy lobbed his way. Who knew trying to take a bunny out to dinner was this hard?
"C'mon, I don't mind. A deal is a deal. We made an agreement, now I gotta pay up," he said. His words were coming out as he thought of them; he could barely think straight at the prospect of taking Judy to dinner. While he was trying to convince Judy, he grumbled at himself in his head. He'd eaten dinner with her dozens of times. Why should this one be any different? "Don't make me go back on my honor as a former hustler, Fluff."
That last sentence earned a giggle out of Judy as they puttered along back to the station. "Honor as a former hustler, huh? And just what sort of honor is entailed in that?" she asked.
"Carrots, once again, you have wounded me," he replied, a paw dramatically clutching at his heart. "Every hustler and con man lives by a code of ethics. 'If you make a deal, you honor the deal.' It was our bread and butter."
"Wait, who's bread and butter?"
"Duh, me and Finnick's."
"It's Finnick and I, Nick," she replied, wagging a finger.
Nick huffed. "Oh, what, you're the grammar police now, too?"
She gave him a smug grin, taking her eyes of the road for a second. "Top marks in school, what can I say," she replied. "Judy Hopps, amazing at everything."
"Hah, and I thought I had a big ego," he chuckled, shaking his head. "You're sounding more and more like me every day. Also, keep your eyes on the road, Fluff. I'll have you know we're going approximately-" he craned his neck to look at the speedometer. "A whopping 6 miles per hour right now."
She lightly ribbed him on the shoulder. "Hey, you don't even have your seatbelt on. I might have to write you up for that, so don't lecture me on safety," she replied, the sass in her voice unmistakeable. "Besides, are you complaining that you're rubbing off on me?"
Nick put both paws behind his head and tried to kick up his feet. His knees bent at nearly a 90 degree angle, but he was invested in trying to look cool at that point, so he kept with it. "Well, no, though if you keep it up, we'll end up being the cheekiest duo on the force. I doubt Fangmeyer and Wolford could keep up with our sass."
Judy rolled her eyes at his display. "I'm pretty sure we already are, considering all the gray fur we've put on Bogo since we started," she giggled. "Well, if you're determined to pay for dinner, where do you want to go? If you're paying, you should at least pick."
"Where was this charitable attitude when you picked that god-awful car for the stake-out?" Nick asked.
"Hey, I trust your selection of restaurants, not your taste in cars," she replied. "Like that hunk of junk you had wanted for the stake out."
Nick pouted. "I'll have you know it was a vintage, '69 El Cowmino, it's a classic!"
"I wasn't aware 'classic' meant 'rust-bucket,'" Judy teased.
"Well, I wouldn't expect someone who grew up on farm equipment to have good taste in automobiles," Nick sniffed. "As for a restaurant…" he stopped, pondering a moment. His ears flicked as he thought. "How about that one you and Cam went to last night? You said I'd like it, remember?"
Judy's breath caught in her throat, recalling the numerous deleted texts she'd wanted to send to Nick that night. All the confusion and uncertainty came rushing back, and she found herself fumbling for words.
"O-oh, right? Yeah, that place seemed like just, uh, your type," she replied quickly. She fought in silence against her tail's desire to twitch, hoping Nick didn't pick up on how distracted the question made her.
Nick cocked an eyebrow at his partner, but decided not to pursue it. "As long as you don't mind going to the same place two days in a row, I'm fine with that," he replied.
Judy quietly took a deep breath to relax. C'mon, you can't keep getting all worked up over that! We're just going to have a nice dinner together, completely platonic, and you're not going to flirt with your work partner.
Her subconscious either knew it was a lie or wanted it to be; she couldn't tell which. Before she could speak up again, though, "Try Everything" buzzed from her pants pocket. She inwardly groaned at the irony of the song contrasted with the current argument she was having with herself.
"Fluff, I can't believe you've still got that as your ringtone," Nick said. "That song is, like, eight months old. Get with the times."
Judy resisted the urge to stick her tongue out at him. "First of all, it's from a concert we went to together, second, it's really catchy, and third, shut up," she rattled off, trying to work the phone out of the tight confines of her pocket.
"Wait, what was that about it being from our first concert?" Nick asked, immediately more interested in their conversation.
Judy shushed him and brought her phone up to her ear. "Hello, Cam? How are you doing?" she asked.
Nick's mood slumped almost as swiftly as it had risen. He tried not to feel a sense of loathing toward the hare, but lingering jealousy stood impudently in his path. Ugh, envy is not a good color on me, he thought. Clashes with my fur.
"Oh, that's great, Cam!" Judy exclaimed. "Yeah, I'll have to fill you in on the details about the case tomorrow. Well, I hope you're ready for the date, I'm sure you'll have a great time. Talk to you soon, bye-bye."
Inside Nick's chest, he swore he could feel his heart sink through his body, through the floor of the cart, and onto the ground. Wait, date? He's going on a date? With Ca- Judy? His ears flopped down, and the rest of his insides felt like they were joining his heart on the ground behind him, sinking lower and lower.
He tried to summon Mini-Finnick, but he was nowhere to be found. Real Finnick's words fell silent inside his head, as well. A stillness wafted around him, and the air in his lungs felt thick.
Judy slid her phone back into her pocket and looked over at him. Upon seeing the distress spreading across his muzzle, her smile vanished, and was instantly replaced with concern. "Nick, what's wrong? Is everything okay?" she asked, her nose quivering just enough that Nick could notice.
He willed himself to look back at her. The veracity of her gaze pierced through him. As he stared at her twitching nose and lavender eyes with brows slightly turned upwards, his chest rumbled and his gut came slowly crawling back. Not a single mammal that he could remember, except his mother, had ever looked at him with concern like that. The warmth in his chest told him this was very different from Vivian Wilde wondering how late he'd be out. He briefly thought back to every time Judy had smiled at him, or rolled her eyes at his impression of Bogo. The minute details of her face, like how he could swear her right ear was taller than the left, or how the lavender of her eyes almost changed to an indigo when they were on night patrol, burned themselves into his head like an old TV screen. The thought of Cam and a date faded out of his mind as the furnace inside him slowly warmed back up.
"You know what, Carrots? Yeah, everything's fine," he said, confidence inching back into his voice. "After all, I'm the most amazing fox cop in the city with a great partner to make up for my lack of ticket-giving agility, what could possibly get me down?"
"But I thought you just…" Judy began. "Oh, ha-ha, teasing your partner into getting worried. What am I going to do with you?"
Nick raised an eyebrow. "Hmm, how about let me pay for dinner tonight?" he asked. Screw it, if she's got a date planned with that rabbit, then I'll just have to make it an even more amazing dinner with me, he thought. No way am I letting him show Carrots a better time than me. She's gonna be in love with me by the time this night is through.
He wasn't sure whether the sudden surge of swagger was warranted or not, but it felt good. Really good, like something had been lost for ages and found its way back home. He also wasn't sure where the word 'love' had come from, but he couldn't muster the anxiety to argue against it.
"Hmm, well, if you absolutely insist on spending money on me, I guess I'll have to oblige you on it," Judy said with a giggle.
"I wonder if you can abide by a gentleman fox paying for everything this time, or if you'll pick up the tip," Nick replied. A paw lazily floated over to one of Judy's ears, tapping it back and forth lightly.
Judy tried to bat his paw away. "Hey, Nick! We have talked about this!" she groaned, struggling to maintain focus between driving and the losing battle of her paw against his. "No touching the ears! It's right up there with calling a rabbit cute. Besides, I'm trying to drive here!"
Nick's paw deftly danced around hers, evading her grasp while continuing to prod her ear. "Fluff, need I remind you we're still going like 6 miles per hour? So, forgive me if I'm not overly concerned about the peril that we're curren-" he said, before being cut off by his muzzle bouncing off one of the rods that held the roof up. Judy had slammed on the brakes, sending him forward at approximately the same 6 miles per hour. He rubbed at his nose and scowled at Judy, who stared back at him with the most frustratingly adorable winning grin he'd ever seen. "Sorry, Nick, didn't catch that. You were saying?"
"That was quite rude, Carrots," he replied, still rubbing at his snout. "Is that how you do things out in the country? How uncouth of you."
Judy put her foot down on the gas, and the cart gently lurched forward once more with all the speed and fury of Flash watching infomercials. "Hey, I reminded you about the seat belts, so don't come whining to me when I have to make a sudden stop," she said.
"Sudden stop, huh? And what was so urgent that it necessitated a sudden stop?"
"A very smug fox wouldn't stop playing with my ears and teasing me, and it was the most immediate and effective way to get him to quit being such an ass."
"That," he began, pointing a clawed finger at her, "is an accurate assessment of the situation. Good spatial awareness, Officer Hopps," he concluded, putting a fist up in the air next to her.
She rolled her eyes and fist bumped him back. "Oh, and don't think I didn't catch that jab about me picking up the tip. You're really trying to get me not to go to dinner with you, aren't you?"
The fun and games Nick was having went up in smoke, and he found himself stumbling over himself to backtrack. "W-what? No, c'mon, Fluff, I was just teasing, I didn't mean anything by it," he said. "You, uh, beat me fair and square, and you said the restaurant was good, and you know I hate going out to eat alone, you don't ha-"
He was interrupted by Judy's laughter. "Woah, slow down Nick, I was only messing with you," she choked out. "You must really want to go to dinner with me, huh?"
Nick's eyes narrowed, and his cheeks felt hot with embarrassment. "I just, uh…" he began. "Really wanna check out the restaurant you so highly recommended." His ears sank lower with each word, and he hoped it didn't come out as weak as it sounded in his head.
"Right, whatever you say, Nick," Judy said with a smirk. Well, looks like it was even weaker out loud, he thought, resisting the urge to smack his forehead with a paw.
Finally, the pair pulled up on the precinct parking lot, where Judy crept their cart into its miniscule spot next to McHorn's cruiser. The car towered over them, basking the two in complete shadow as Judy turned off the electric motor. "Well, now that we're finished playing 'embarrass the fox,' why don't we get changed and head out," Nick said. "Because all games aside, I'm starving after hours out in the sun."
"Hours out in the sun?" Judy retorted. "After how many more tickets I handed out than you, if anyone has any right to be starving here, it's me."
"What, we're getting competitive over who is more hungry now?" he asked. "Is our whole working relationship just one big competition to you?"
She giggled. "Not much of a competition when I keep winning, is it?"
He tried to frown, but he couldn't keep a warm grin from spreading across his face. "I suppose you're just conveniently forgetting who managed to bust that mole in the force, huh, Fluff? That's right, it was the one and only-"
"Finnick. Finnick is who busted it open," Judy replied, interrupting him.
Judy flipped the keys to Roberto, the portly beaver attendant, before Nick could respond. Roberto caught them without looking up from his magazine. "Good day costing the taxpayers a fortune, Officer Hopps?" he asked as he turned a page.
"They wouldn't have to pay anything if they watched their meters more carefully, Roberto, you know that," she responded without missing a beat.
Nick and Judy were about to walk away when Nick spoke up. "Yo, Roberto, you gonna be here much longer?" he asked.
Roberto glanced at a gold watch on his wrist; it shone brightly into Nick's eyes in the dimming sun. "Yeah, 'bout another half hour or so, why?"
Judy looked at her partner. "Nick, what are you thinking?"
He showed off a few fangs in a smirk. "Any chance we could nab one of the impounded cars for a trip out tonight? We'll have it back in tip top shape, fox's honor," he asked, placing a paw over his heart.
"Hah, fox's honor, that's a new one," Roberto said. "Well, I don't know, my pockets have been feelin' a little light as of late. You know I can't guarantee anything, though. I ain't got the keys for every car here, only the stuff that's been seized by the city. The impounded stuff's just been towed here. Might end up costin' you a bit extra, you know?"
Judy gawked between them. "Are you two serious? Are you actually haggling over a bribe? On police property?"
Nick patted her on the head between the ears, which only seemed to infuriate her further, much to his delight. "Don't worry, Carrots, besides, they don't pay Roberto enough, right, Roberto?"
"Definitely not enough," he replied, eyes still glued to his magazine. "Though twenty-five bucks should start to help me out."
"Ooh, twenty-five? Just for sitting out here and reading?" Nick asked, stepping closer to the window. Rows of keys hung on a board behind Roberto. "Why, anyone could just sneak in here, snatch away a pair of keys, and be gone before you know it! Ten bucks."
Roberto flipped his magazine down and narrowed his eyes at Nick. "Twenty bucks."
"Eighteen and we get to pick the car," he shot back.
"Eighteen and you get to pick but I get to veto."
"Deal," Roberto said, sticking out a paw. Nick took it and shook it warmly. Judy simply stared open-mouthed at both of them. "I can't believe what I just witnessed," she said.
"Eh, don't worry about it Carrots, this is just friends helping each other out," Nick replied. He pulled some bills out of his wallet and slipped it to the beaver. "And trust me, considering how badly he lost at poker the other week, Roberto needs all the help he can get. Say, you got change for a twenty?"
"Hey, at least I don't cheat and continue stereotypes about my species," he said, pocketing the money. "And no, I don't. Too bad, though."
Nick rolled his eyes and put his wallet away. "Yeah, far be it to continue the stereotype of beavers as hard workers, couldn't have that," he laughed. Although Judy was still incensed with the pair, she couldn't help but giggle at his joke.
"Careful there, or you're gonna make it two vetoes," he relied, turning back to his magazine.
"You're lucky I don't make it zero vetoes considering you just got an extra two bucks," Nick said, waving him off with a paw. He wasn't sure if Roberto even saw his gesture considering his eyes were glued to a new issue of Efficient Dams Monthly, but he figured it was the thought that counts.
"C'mon, Fluff, let's go get changed and grab us some new wheels for the night," he said, walking back to the precinct. She stared one more time back at Roberto, still mildly in shock at how casually they discussed breaking protocol, before running after Nick.
Now that she thought about it, though, Nick's mention of the heat made her realize just how gross she felt in her uniform. We'll deal with the ramifications of bribery in a bit, she thought. First, I gotta get into something that doesn't stink like parking duty.
The pair exchanged few words, silently agreeing that new clothes were in order before any more discussion was to be had. Clawhauser was packing up for the day when he noticed them and waved them over. Nick lifted up an arm, gestured to his armpit, and held his nose. Judy giggled while Clawhauser rolled his eyes and went back to his phone. Within minutes, Judy grabbed some folded jeans and one of her favorite light blue button-downs from her locker. As ceremoniously as possible, she then placed her uniform into a duffel bag. "Don't worry, you'll be at the dry cleaners soon," she said to the bag. Francine extended her head past the lockers a few rows down. "You, uh, talk to your uniform a lot, Hopps?" she asked.
"Only when I'm nervous," she replied, a little more honest than she'd meant to be.
"Nervous? About what?"
"I've, uh, got a date? I guess? Well, I'm not sure if it's a date. At the very least, I'm going to dinner. With a guy." Judy tripped over her words, unsure if she even believed herself.
Francine, though, couldn't mask her excitement, and ran out toward Judy. The extra large towel around her body barely kept her modest while she footsteps thundered off the tile floors. "Ooh, girl, you're finally gonna get yourself a man! About time, too. Ever since you started working here, all we talk about is work. Gets a little old, honestly."
"First of all, thanks, appreciate that," Judy deadpanned. "Second, like I said, I don't even know if this is a date. I'd rather play it casual, I think."
"Lemme ask you something," Francine began. "He ask you out?"
"Uh, in a manner of speaking, I guess he di-"
"And you like this guy?"
Judy paused at that question. She wanted to say yes, but a embarrassing compulsion inside her told her to say no, like she was back on the elementary school playground being asked about a crush. "I, uh, well-"
"That's a yes," Francine interrupted.
"Hey! Don't I get a say in this?" she asked. She pulled the jeans over her legs and got to buttoning her shirt.
"You already had a say, and it's pretty loud and clear to me, at least from where I'm standing," she replied. "Well, he asked you out, and you pretty much love him from what I can see, so yeah, it's a date." She walked back over to her locker and resumed changing.
If Judy looked in the mirror, she might have mistaken herself for a beet from Dave Whiskerton's farm back in Bunnyburrow at the mention of love. "N-now just hold on a minute," she began, her foot tapping rapidly against the floor.
"Relax, girl, I'm only teasing you," Francine called out from behind the row of lockers. Within seconds, she walked out fully dressed.
"You know, I'll never understand how you get dressed so quickly," Judy said.
"Elephant secret," she replied. They pair walked out of the locker room together. "So, who's the lucky guy to nab our very own Judy Hopps?"
Once through the door, they saw Nick waiting for them by the water fountain in his usual green Hawaiian shirt and khaki slacks combo. He walked toward them. "So, Fluff, ready to go?" he asked.
Judy craned her neck to look up at Francine, whose face was plastered with the elation that comes with learning a secret you're not supposed to know. Judy resisted the urge to smack Nick upside the head as embarrassment washed over her.
"Well, Judy, I'll just leave you to it. Hope you two have fun!" Francine said as she walked away. "Remember what I told you, Jude!"
Nick stared at Judy. "Since when does Tusks call you Jude?"
"Since just this moment, I guess," Judy replied. She gritted her teeth; Francine wasn't gonna let her hear the end of this for weeks.
Nick shrugged. "Well, ready to go pick out our ride?" he asked, gesturing a paw toward the main foyer.
"Er, I… yeah, let's go," she replied.
As they walked, Nick's eyes wandered more than once over to his partner. He'd seen her out of uniform dozens of times, but seeing her next to him on their way out to dinner showed her in a different light.
"You look nice, by the way," Nick said, doing his best to make the compliment sound off-hand.
After her run-in with Francine, Judy was compelled to get the edge up on someone like the elephant had with her.
"Nice, huh? That's the best a smooth-talking former hustler has to offer?" she said. She hadn't taken as much joy in keeping Nick on his toes as she had in the last few days. I've never really been able to make him squirm before, she thought. Kinda nice.
Nick gulped. "Well, I mean," he began. "You do look really great! I just didn't want to, uh, come off too strong?"
Judy stifled a laugh. "Relax, Nick, I'm just messing with you," she said. "Again."
Nick rubbed the back of his neck and laughed with her. Inwardly, though, his brain was tripping over itself like he was a newborn kit trying to walk for the first time.
As they walked out into the main lobby, they saw Francine leaning on the desk talking quietly with Clawhauser. The could not see much of the cheetah as he was mostly blocked by the elephant's bulk, but as his face came into view, it was obviously something exciting.
Please don't be talking about us, please don't be talking about us, please don't be talking about us, Judy silently wished.
Clawhauser's caught a glimpse of Judy and Nick, and tried to avoid eye contact. His cheeks were puffed up from suppressing laughter. Francine turned to look too, trying to get her big elephantine eyes to look as innocent as possible. Judy suppressed a groan; her wish was clearly going unanswered.
Clawhauser brought his paws up to his face; ears splayed out and eyes wide. Francine gave a little snort through her trunk as she forced down a giggle.
Nick's ears flicked in the direction of the noise, and he started to turn his head to its source.
"So!" Judy said, loud enough to startle Nick. "what kind of car are we going to get?"
Her gambit worked. Nick turned his head back to Judy and away from possible Clawhauser squeals.
"Huh? Oh, uh, you got any ideas?" he asked as they turned, head towards to hall that would take them to the impound and sized asset lot on the backside of the building. Judy relaxed, Clawhauser and Francine now more behind them. There will be plenty of time in the morning to deal with gossip, she thought. Her stoicism in the face of office gossip belayed her nervousness at the prospect of Clawhauser blabbing to everyone about her and Nick going to dinner. While she steadily steeled herself to face Francine's knowing grin in the morning, Nick was still focused on finding the coolest set of wheels.
"Well, I don't know about you, but I had something in mind already," he said, eyes growing large. "I was thinking a really great-"
"1969 El Cowmino, yes, I know," Judy rolled her eyes. "I doubt they have such a specific make and model, Nick," she replied. "Besides, if I'm going to dinner, it's not gonna be in a hunk of junk like that."
"Carrots, your words are like warm knives into the butter of my soul," he said, falling to his knees in a show of melodrama. "Besides, I was gonna say '72. Better interior design that year."
"Nick, I'm not making fun of you, I'm making fun of a car," she countered.
"Insulting a man's favorite car is as good as insulting his character," he scoffed, standing back up with overwrought dignity. "Besides, you still haven't answered the question."
The two passed Roberto, who barely acknowledged them. Row after row of cars, from muscle-bound machines of torque and rubber, to clunky rust buckets well past their prime, lay out before them. With each step, Judy's confidence in getting a car was beginning to stumble at the finish line. Her gait had slowed, and Nick had continued past her. She wrung her paws together before speeding up to catch him. "Uh, Nick, I'm not so sure about this," she said. "Isn't this kind of… unethical? I don't mind taking a cab, really, if that's what this is all about."
Nick abruptly stopped and turned to face her. After the way she'd gotten him earlier, he wanted to seize back control in the game he was sure they were playing. "Carrots, you're not telling me you're scared, are you?" he asked. "After all the rule-breaking we've done in the line of duty, this is where you draw the line?"
Her determination was faltering in the face of such bravado from him. "N-no, I'm not scared, give me a little credit," she replied. The conviction she'd hoped would show up in her voice never did. "It's just, I mean, I wouldn't want anything to spoil the meal, and getting busted for something like this would definitely put a damper on things."
Nick bent down to get face to face with her. He swore he could see a light blush forming on her cheeks under her fur as he teased her further. "What's the matter Carrots, a little worried to take a walk on the wild side?" he asked. He let himself momentarily revel in his position as a predator as his stare intensified. He grinned, his canines glinting in the light from the setting sun.
Judy had felt in control during the whole drive back to the precinct and after they'd changed, but she found herself suddenly helpless with Nick's teeth so close. However, the quivering fear that hammered away in her chest didn't tell her to run. There wasn't any anxiety or trepidation in her fear, and the more she thought about it, fear wasn't even the right word. Her instinct was being beaten back by something else that grew stronger the closer Nick's fangs got to her. She felt a smile spread across her muzzle in spite of herself, and the resolve to match his thrill only bolstered her further.
"Wild side, huh? I thought you hated puns," she replied slowly. Her pupils widened at the prospect of intentionally breaking a few rules to have some fun, and a strange compulsion to prove Nick wrong came over her. "You know what, Nick? The wild side doesn't sound so bad. Let's go grab us a car."
Nick gawked at her; he hadn't anticipated Judy actually running with his idea. He'd planned to rib her about being so goody-goody on the way to the restaurant, though he couldn't recall a time when he was happier that a plan had fallen apart.
"Oh, really? I gotta hand it to you, Fluff, you can be pretty cool once in awhile," he said.
Judy snickered. "I'm cool now, huh? Well, if you can go back in time to high school and let everyone else know, that would be great," she replied.
"I can just picture you know, Hall Monitor Judy Hopps, coolest mammal in school," he said. "Did you have to wear an orange vest? Please tell me you wore an orange vest."
The pair continued to walk down the aisle of cars, not paying them much mind as they talked. In the back of her mind, Judy thought they'd definitely passed at least two different cars that Nick would love, but he didn't seem interested in looking away from her.
"...so in short, initially I didn't have to wear a vest, but I demanded that I wear one because I thought it would increase visibility and safety," she said, recounting the memory.
Nick's stomach was getting sore from holding back his laughter, though he managed to get through it. "See, Carrots? I knew you were too cool for school back then. Nothing is more hip than safety and reflective tape," he replied.
Judy giggled. Although she normally cringed when talking about her time in high school, Nick's resigned amusement with it all left her more at ease. She was about to ask him about his own high school experiences when she spotted it. A gorgeous, simple, ruby-red roadster, just the perfect size for a fox and rabbit, sat at the end of the row, seemingly untouched by the grime around it. She dashed over, leaving Nick standing there staring at her with his usual frustrating bemused grin.
"See something you like, Fluff?" he called out, walking over to her. She was practically dancing around the car, carefully eyeing the plush interior. "I didn't know you had a type when it came to cars."
"I, uh, usually don't," she said, finding herself sheepish upon realizing the extent of her dancing. "But I make an exception for convertibles like this."
Nick raised an eyebrow. "Not gonna lie, I never pictured you as a convertible girl," he said. "Figured you didn't prefer any car besides a standard issue police cruiser."
"Well, my mom always joked about wanting a car like this when I was younger," she replied. Her eyes never left the car, drinking in every detail. "She'd tease my dad about how she was gonna run away with their savings and go get the fanciest top-down sports car she could find."
Nick glided a paw down the lines of the roadster. He had to admit, it was a bit more feminine than what he preferred, but it definitely wasn't a bad choice. "Hah, I bet he loved that," he said.
"I think initially it nearly gave him palpitations, though he asked me a few months ago if I knew of any good dealerships here in Zootopia. I'm pretty sure he wants to surprise her for her 50th," she said. "I know she was always kidding when she talked about running off and buying a convertible, so I think she's gonna be really surprised."
Nick paused for longer than he meant to as Judy talked about her parents. He turned away to look at the other cars in the impound lot.
"Nick, you alright?" she asked, cocking her head ever so slightly to the side. He wasn't sure if that she consciously did that, but it made the corners of his mouth curl up every time she did.
"Yeah, Carrots, I'm good," he replied. "That sounds like a great idea for your mom, by the way."
"Huh? Oh, yeah, I think she'll flip," she laughed. A silence settled between them, and Judy couldn't tell if it was a comfortable one or not. "So, uh…" she began.
Nick rolled his eyes. "You want to know if we can take this car, don't you?"
Judy clasped her paws together in front of her. "Please? I've never driven something this cool, and if we're gonna be bad and bribe the lot attendant, I at least wanna get behind the wheel of something I know I'll never own," she pleaded. Nick couldn't help but notice that her lower lip trembled a bit. He wasn't sure if it was pitiful or cute. Eh, I suppose it can be both at the same time, he thought.
"Hmm, well, you did beat me fair and square by about 50 tickets this afternoon," he said, slowly scratching his chin with a claw. "I guess with that kind of performance, you've warranted picking the car. But don't get too upset if Roberto doesn't have the keys for this one."
"Heh, first of all, it was by about 100 tickets," Judy gloated, much to Nick's consternation. "And second of all, thankyouthankyouthankyou-"
Judy practically bounded over to him and wrapped him up in a tight hug. Her exuberance nearly threw him off balance, and the sudden proximity of head resting against his chest had him gasping for breath, although that might have been her arms trying to seemingly crush the life out of him.
Just as soon as her embrace started, it ended. She pulled away and turned back to the car, resuming her admiration. Nick was left nearly panting. He tried to come up with something smarmy to say, like telling her he wasn't aware rabbits could attack like that, but the words simply refused to come out of his mouth.
"C'mon, let's see if Roberto can let us have this one," Judy said, tearing her eyes off her scarlet beauty long enough to start walking toward the attendant booth. Her words pulled Nick back into the realm of the living, and he nodded dumbly, following close behind her.
Judy had shown affection to him before, but that hug felt different to him, like there was something more there. Before, she would have just punched me on the arm or something, he thought. Oh gods, am I overthinking this? There's no way Nick Wilde, master conman, is overthinking a hug.
He knew that was a lie, though, as his mind waged war back and forth during the walk back to Roberto. Although he hadn't counted the steps, he could swear it was taking longer to return to the beaver.
"Hey, Roberto!" she called out, signalling to him. "The red convertible over here looks great!"
Roberto threw her a thumbs-up, and rummaged around the board of keys behind him. Judy and Nick approached the window and waited. The sound of metal jangling followed by the muffled tap of a rabbit foot against the asphalt filled the air as Roberto searched. After almost a minute, he turned around and flipped a set of keys to Judy. She caught them without missing a beat.
"You're in luck, officer. The particular owner of that one loved that old gambling den in the Rainforest District just a bit too much; the car's going up for auction in a week. Now, of course I don't have to tell you that if anything happens to the car, I'll deny having ever spoken to you, right?" he asked. "After all, faking the CCTV footage ain't hard." The humid late afternoon air hung heavily between them. Nick wasn't sure when he'd become so warm, but he was looking forward to the breeze of driving around with the top down.
Judy looked at Nick for confirmation as the gravity of what he'd said momentarily pulled her down from her high. "Yes, we both understand," Nick said, placing a paw on her shoulder.
"Good, have it back late tonight. No later than 5 a.m.," Roberto said before settling back in with his magazine.
Nick said nothing, and started walking back toward the car. Judy quickly hopped back to his side, her paws wringing around the key from Roberto.
"What's the matter, Fluff?" he asked. "Little nervous now that it's real?"
"Well, no," she began. Her ears seems to be on a swivel, flicking in a new direction at the slightest hint of a noise. "Ugh, a little, I guess. I mean, what if we get into a wreck or something?"
"With you behind the wheel, it's almost a certainty," Nick replied. He was almost eagerly anticipating a smack from his partner, but was instead met with a giggle. It rang in his ears, almost too girlish to have come from Judy.
"Whatever, but you'll be laughing when we're cruising down the street in style with me in control," she said, skipping ahead of him toward the car. He stopped and stared at her for a moment. A lingering soreness had spread across his arm, as though it was upset at the prospect of going un-punched. He didn't linger, speeding up to catch her before she made it to the convertible.
"Oh, shoot," Nick said, staring at the clutch in the car. "I didn't realize this model's a manual transmission. You ever driven one before?"
Judy hopped over the door, plopping neatly into the driver's seat. "Nick, I grew up on a farm," she replied. "They don't make automatic farm equipment. Well, at least not back then, anyway."
Nick opened the passenger door and slid inside, making himself comfortable in the plush seats. "Ugh, please don't say 'back then' as though ten years ago is somehow a long time," he chuckled.
"For the last time, Nick, you have no business getting self-conscious over 'being old,'" she replied, dramatically adding finger quotes to the last two words. "You're only, like, eight years older than me."
"Ah, but you're not counting in fox years," he said. "Once a fox hits about 27, they begin rapidly aging at the rate of nearly a decade every year. I might as well be geriatric at this point."
She snorted with laughter. "Oh, but you're forgetting bunny years," she said. She was about to turn the ignition, but the need to one-up her partner trumped her desire to hear the engine purr. "Any bunny, but especially girl bunnies, are functionally babies until they're in their late twenties. Before then, they might as well still be in diapers, crying for bottles."
"Oh, really? Do tell, what happens in their late twenties?" he asked.
"Duh, they start popping out litters of kits. Well, maybe late twenties is a bit too old. Really, the kits are what matter."
Nick imagined if he'd been drinking anything, he'd have done a spit-take all over the fine interior of their temporary ride. "H-hah, kits, huh? That's the difference?"
"Oh, yeah, you're a child until you're the mother of some children of your own." She returned her paw to the ignition. "At least, that's how it was in the Hopps' household," she muttered under her breath as she turned the key. The engine roared to life, giving the two a glorious rumble in their seats.
"What was that at the end?" Nick asked. "Didn't catch it over the engine turning over."
"Hmm? Oh, I didn't say anything," she replied.
"Hey, just be glad you've got two parents that love you enough to consider you a child," he laughed. The air in his throat felt dry and scratchy, and he immediately regretted his choice of words.
"Nick, what do you mean?" she asked. She gave him the same look of mournful understanding that he hated to see. His fur prickled in his seat, and he sighed silently to himself. Can never keep your big muzzle shut, can you? he thought. Now you've got her all worried before our date.
"I, uh, look, Carrots, I don't want anything to spoil our night," he said. "I know this seems really important to you, and I promise we'll get to it eventually, but right now I just want to pay for a lovely meal for us both and to enjoy our evening."
Judy thought she'd gotten pretty good at reading Nick, and the crystal clarity in the green of his eyes told her he wasn't lying about any of it. "I- you're right, Nick," she said.
She rolled her eyes. "And you're still an ass."
"Once again, as usual."
She turned her head to look over her shoulder, and began pulling the car out of the spot. The acceleration, even in reverse, took her off guard, and she was forced to slam on the brakes as they nearly backed into a car behind them.
They both wheeled around, and stared at the measly inches that separated their bumper with a raggedy old station wagon's. "H-hah, you sure you're good, Fluff?" Nick asked, the usual calm in his demeanor teetering in the wake of nearly scratching up their ill-gotten ride.
Judy's pupils were needle points as she slowly turned toward her partner. "I… Yeah, everything's alright. Her heart sprinted toward an invisible finish line in her chest. Ever so gently, she crept the car back into the spot to try again. With her paw inching off the brakes bit by bit, they successfully backed out of their spot. It only took ten seconds, though by Judy's estimation, it must have been years.
Once out, she tapped her foot against the gas pedal. The roadster lurched forward, sending both their stomachs into the seat. That earned another manic glance from Nick, who was beginning to seriously regret acting cool and suggesting they grab a car.
He reached his paw out to Judy's, which rested on the stick shift. His sense of self-preservation screamed at him to do something about the near-death experience he was confident he'd have in the next several minutes. When he looked at her face, though, it was scrunched up in concentration, trying to find the sweet spot on the gas to let them cruise out of the lot in style. He silently let out a sigh he didn't realize he was holding, and put his paw back in his lap.
After a few more sudden lurches, Judy found the speed she was looking for, and with a wave toward Roberto, they pulled out of the lot with the breeze in their fur. Although late afternoon traffic was at it's peak, and the heat was punishing when they were stopped, Judy couldn't stop beaming.
"Ever think you'd be behind the wheel of a car this cool, Carrots?" Nick asked. He knew the answer, of course, but he yearned to hear it out of her mouth.
In front of them, the light turned green. With a smirk directed at him, Judy threw her foot down and deftly shifted from first to second without missing a beat. They swiftly found themselves at another red light, but the rush of adrenaline for both of them was palpable.
"Hah, no, no I didn't," she replied. "Ever think your lame country-bunny partner could gun it like that?"
Nick put two fingers up to his neck to check his pulse. Although he did it mostly to make her laugh, he was mildly shocked when he found that her little stunt had, in fact, noticeably raised his heart rate. He gulped; he wasn't sure whether to be excited or frightened, and he doubted his ability to tell them apart at this point.
He was headed out on a date. With Judy. In a convertible neither of them could afford. After two near-sleepless nights where his mind refused to think about anything else other than his partner. "To be honest? I didn't," he replied. "Glad to learn that you could, though. Gotta say, I'm impressed that I'm still learning things about you after basically being glued at the hip."
"Well, I definitely don't have as many secrets as a former con-man, but us bunnies always have a few tricks up our sleeves," she said. She shifted into neutral and revved the engine. Although it wasn't the biggest or loudest around, the smooth roar coming from under the hood gave both Nick and Judy goosebumps. She turned to her left and saw an older couple in the car next to them shaking their heads. Once the light turned green, she gunned it once again, lurching forward past everyone else at the light.
"You… are enjoying this a bit too much," Nick said. He wasn't sure when his paw had started gripping the safety handle next to him, but he didn't want to let go.
"Isn't that the point?" Judy asked. The remainder of their ride went smoothly, if a little faster than Nick had initially anticipated. Judy's ears lay flat behind her, occasionally flapping after catching a backdraft of wind. As tempting as they looked, messing with them in their ticketing cart earned him a smooshed muzzle and an ornery rabbit; he wasn't sure he was ready for the consequences of teasing her while in her dream car.
Quiet filled the remaining minutes until they reached the restaurant. Nick didn't mind, though, and he was sure Judy didn't either. They pulled into an excellent spot in the parking lot and quickly got out of their car.
"We should probably get the top up in case it rains," Judy said, shutting her door.
Nick looked up at the nearly cloudless sky and scoffed. "C'mon, Fluff, it's hot as hell and it's a clear sky."
"Do you want to explain to Roberto why the inside of the car we borrowed is soaked?"
"Hey, the top was down when we got it!" he countered. "Although, he would probably blame it on us…"
Judy folded her arms in front of her. "Exactly. Now help me get the roof up."
Nick clacked his feet together and gave a crisp salute. The roof was up in short order, and after nodding at one another, the pair walked into the restaurant.
The dark red carpeting and low lighting, coupled with the relatively low ceiling gave the inside a quiet ambiance that Nick found appealing. "Oh, shoot, should we have made reservations?" Nick asked.
Judy waved him off with a flick of her paw. "Nah, I don't think this place is that classy. Besides, it's a Thursday. I can't imagine they're so busy that we'd wait a long time."
Judy was proven correct when the young ewe hostess was immediately able to give them a booth along the wall near the back. The pair were quickly poured ice water by a waitress and left with menus to peruse.
"What did you say was good here?" Nick asked.
"I had the eggplant bisque the other night," she replied. "But I think I'm gonna get something new."
Judy looked up from her menu at Nick, and her eyes suddenly went wide.
Nick couldn't miss her staring at him. "What's up? Got something on my shirt?"
"Oh, geez, I didn't even think to ask if this place caters to, you know..." she said. A paw slicked back one of her ears in anxiety.
"What are you- oh," he said. "Carrots, you don't need to worry ab-"
Judy couldn't see much of the restaurant from his seat. However, a quick scan around the restaurant revealed several predator couples enjoying their meals. Not a huge percentage of the diners, but enough.
"Oh, good, there's at least some predators here, so at least I didn't screw that up," she said.
"Fluff, you're not hearing me. I'm a-
"Still, I should put thought into that kind of thing by now. I'm your partner, and it's rude of me not to take you into consideration about food and stuff."
Nick rolled his eyes. "Relax, Carrots, no harm, no foul. Besides, it wouldn't have been a problem anyway, I'm-"
"Nick, I appreciate you being nice, but you don't need to be," she interrupted. "You're a predator, and if we're going out to eat, I need to be aware-"
"Judy!" he near-shouted. The use of her name immediately caught her attention, and she silenced herself. "Um, yes?" she asked.
"I'm a vegetarian," he said flatly. "You don't need to worry."
She stared at him again. "W-what? Really?"
He shrugged. "Yeah, really. I'm surprised you never noticed before."
"But, you're a fox! And foxes, I mean, aren't they-"
"Have you seen what's available for predators here in the city?" he asked. "Bugs. Forgive me for not wanting to ruin our meal by munching down on some beetles in front of you. Besides, a lot of preds are at least kinda vegetarian now, anyway. Our bodies can handle it more, and there's supplements for species that need especially high protein. I'm not one of them, so it's garden greens and tofu for me."
Judy listened attentively while he talked. Once it was clear he'd finished, she spoke again. "Wow, I never thought about it like that," she said. "What predators eat, I mean. I just assumed it was mostly what meat you can still eat." She averted her eyes from Nick, and her embarrassment at, once again, generalizing the predator population was palpable.
"Most prey species don't think about it," he said. "Most of the preds I know don't do the whole bug thing. I know Finnick hates it. Don't worry about it, though, seriously."
"But, I never even thought to ask! And I never noticed, despite eating with you all the time-"
"Fluff, you realized once we were at the restaurant, which is a lot better than most prey would do," he said. "I'm a big boy fox, you don't need to be such an emotional little bunny about it." He smirked at the last sentence.
"You're lucky I can't reach across the table and hit you for that," she huffed.
"Seriously, though? Thanks," he said, giving her a warm smile. "Even if we were already sitting down to eat, not many bunnies would worry themselves about the dietary requirements of a fox."
That earned a tiny return grin from Judy. The waitress came back right as she opened her mouth to reply.
"So, have we decided on anything?" she asked. Their waitress was a tall, slender white-tailed deer. Nick figured she must have been working a long shift, if her mussed up coat was any indication.
"Yeah, I'll be having a bowl of the eggplant bisque," he replied. "Oh, and an order of that spinach dip, what do you think Carrots?"
Judy, however, had not looked over the menu during her conversation, and was frantically scanning through to find a new dish that sounded appetizing. Nick rolled his eyes.
"Uh, the raspberry arugula salad sounds alright," she said. "What did you say Nick?"
"We'll take some spinach dip, too," he told the waitress.
"Alright, sounds good you two," she replied. She dashed away to another table after assuring them that they'd have their appetizer soon.
Silence drifted over the pair as they sipped their water. Nick relaxed and leaned back in his seat, but Judy was still hunched forward, eyes scanning back and forth at nothing. He caught eye of her frown quickly and spoke up.
"What's up, Fluff? Something on your mind?" he asked.
Judy's head snapped up, looking at the source of the interruption of her thought. "Huh? Yeah, I guess so," she replied. "It just feels… I don't know, sort of off just relaxing with you after how the last few days of work have been. I keep anticipating something else coming up, like a call from the Chief that Marty's on the run and he needs us to track him down. Something like that."
Nick nodded and waited several moments before speaking again. "I can see that. It's been a weird last few days, huh?" he replied. "Stake-outs, bugged computers, impromptu fox-shaped listening devices…"
Judy laughed. "Well, the listening device was carrot-shaped, it was just wielded by someone fox-shaped," she said. "I guess you could say the pen was mightier than the sword."
He groaned and slicked his ears back with his paws. Judy simply shot him a cheesy grin. "That was awful, Carrots. Brilliant, but awful," he said.
"I do what I can," she said. "But seriously, don't you feel a little on edge? Like our job isn't over? We should be there when Internal Affairs brings those guys in."
"Fluff, you know there's a reason we let IA interrogate other cops," he said, his tone becoming more dour. "We don't know Marty well, but they can't risk any sort of relationship between the perp and the arresting officer. We might get a crack at that hyena later, but Marty's out of our paws."
Judy pouted, folding her arms in front of her chest. "I know there's a good reason for it, but that doesn't mean I have to like it," she replied.
He leaned back once more and took a sip from his drink. "I know it's a bit underwhelming for us, but look at it this way. We got the bad guy! So what we aren't the ones to haul him in, that just means less paperwork for us."
"But I don't mind more paperwork," she whined.
"You're insane," he chuckled. "My advice? Just sit back and bask in the glow of a job well done. We cracked the case, so let us now enjoy the spoils of our victory."
"Our spoils being…"
"...A tasty dinner and enjoyable evening in pleasant company?" Nick offered.
Judy thought a moment before holding up her glass over the table in front of him. "I think I can suffer through that," she said. Nick rolled his eyes and grinned before clinking his glass against hers. "To a boring, uneventful evening of regular adults eating dinner," he said.
"To a boring, uneventful evening of regular adults eating dinner," she repeated.
The conversation petered out, and once again Nick found himself thinking of what to say or do next. Uneventful my tail, we're gonna have an amazing time, he thought. He realized he was inadvertently staring at Judy, and instead made his eyes wander around the restaurant. He decided on watching a kangaroo couple heartily laughing, much to the annoyance of a pair of sheep behind them.
"Hah, Fluff, you wanna resurrect our favorite patrol game?" he asked, a teasing lilt hiding at the edge of his voice.
Judy's eyes followed his paw toward the four mammals, and a smile broke out across her face. "Mammal watching?" she asked. "Definitely."
Nick nodded. "Alright, what do you think the roos are laughing about?"
Judy squinted, trying to get a better look across the restaurant. Although it was difficult to tell kangaroos apart at a distance, the one she took as female was gesturing wildly, while her partner struggled to stifle laughter. She couldn't tell if the other kangaroo was male or female from her seat, though.
"Hmm, definitely some sort of sorority story," she said. "Probably some drunken hijinks or something."
"Not a bad guess," he replied. "I was gonna say something involving a clown car, gallons of fake blood, and a bear costume, but your idea is probably more likely."
Judy shook her head and laughed. "I don't know, gallons of fake blood and clown cars do go perfectly together, after all."
Nick took a long sip from his water, savoring it as he set the glass down. He hadn't realized just how comfortable he was until that moment. He was finally out of the heat, sitting down in air conditioning, having a regular conversation with Judy. Although it had only been about a week since they'd last done something like this, it felt more like ages to him.
"Well, what do you think has Mr. and Mrs. Wool so upset?" he asked. "Probably a member of the clown union, I bet, angry that their hard-earned union pay is being thrown away to a bunch of amateurs."
Judy tried in vain to contain her giggles. "Y-you, where do you even come up with this stuff," she asked through her breaths.
He shrugged. "What can I say, just a natural comedian, I guess." Judy knew he was just trying to play it cool, though she didn't feel like calling him out on it.
"If I had to guess, I'd say their more frustrated that the other kangaroo kicks every time he laughs, and him constantly thumping his back against their booth is probably driving them nuts," she said. "Though clown union scabs is definitely a close second, I think."
"Oh, hah, I didn't even notice the kicking," he said. "Good eye, Fluff."
"What can I say, just a natural… spotter? I guess?" she replied.
"Ooh, got me good there. Natural spotter, that's quite a title."
Their conversation was cut short by their waitress bringing them their appetizer and refilling their water. After a quick thank you, she pranced back to the kitchen.
"Damn, she looks crazy busy," he said. "The restaurant isn't even that full, either. Always hated it when other waiters called in sick."
She raised an eyebrow at him. "You were a waiter? Really?"
"Among other things, yes. Conning wasn't always 40 hour a week work, so odd jobs here and there usually filled in the gaps. What about you? You ever get a job before graduating from the academy? I imagine 'barista' or 'waitress' would have been child's play to a young Judith Laverne Hopps."
She stared daggers at him after his last sentence. "Well, that's your one use of my middle name for the month, Piberius, so I hope you're happy," she replied.
"Oh, I always am," he shot back. His muzzle was a mixture of a gloating smirk at irritating her and a grimace at the use of his own middle name.
"Well, to answer your question before you so rudely brought up my birth name," she began, "no, I never really held any job before now. I mean, between the farm work I had to help with, school, studying every book on law enforcement I could find, and policing my own brothers and sisters, I barely had any time to myself."
Nick took a bite out of their appetizer, nearly drowning a pita chip in the dip. He didn't realize how hungry he was, and self-consciousness about making a mess while eating suddenly ate away at him. The touched the tip of his tongue to one of his canines again, and felt compelled to eat more delicately in front of Judy. Ugh, now she's affecting how I eat, too? he thought. This had better be one of the last 'new developments.'
"Sounds like, er, you were pretty busy with all of your siblings," he replied as she took a bite for herself. She breathed a sigh of content as she chewed.
"Huh? Oh, yeah, we basically all were," she said. "I mean, when you've got close to 300 brothers and sisters, some jobs will fall through the cracks to the kids."
Nick rested his chin under his paws. "Like what?"
"Well, I've definitely changed more diapers than any single rabbit should," she replied, diving in for another bite. "But I've done my fair share of babysitting, cooking, making lunches, helping with homework, that sort of stuff." She extended a finger for each job she listed.
"Wow, sounds like a lot of stuff your parents should have been doing," he said.
Judy laughed. "Oh, they did more than any of us, believe me. It's just, well, that's sorta how things run in bunny families. I mean, to be honest, I sometimes have a hard time remembering everyone's names."
Nick gawked at her, a chip in his paw clattering to the table. "What? You can't remember their names?"
"Well, sometimes it takes me a little bit!" she huffed. "And it's only the ones from other much later litters. We tend to be closer to our litter-mates, anyway."
"Wow, I guess I'd never thought of that," he said, picking up his chip off the table.
"Ew, Nick, don't eat that! It was on the table!"
He shrugged. "Eh, they wipe 'em down." He flipped it into his mouth and quickly chewed.
"I've got to be boring you with all of this, though," she said, flipping an ear off her shoulder. "I can't imagine you want to hear about me changing diapers as a teenager."
"You can't be serious," he said. "Carrots, I just can't believe we never talked about this before. I mean, I knew you had a lot of siblings, but… the sheer logistics of it all…"
She snorted with laughter. "Yeah, things got a little crazy now and again. The terrible twos are pretty terrible when there's twenty of them. But I'm sure you've got crazy stories from when you were a kid, too."
"I mean, I've got crazy stories from when I was on the street," he chuckled. "Let's just say my first time hustling pool didn't go as well as I'd expected."
She shook her head. "No, no, I know you've got a million of those. I've heard about half of them already," she muttered under her breath.
Nick's ear flicked in her direction. "Sorry, what was that, Fluff? Didn't quite catch that."
"Huh? Oh, nothing," she said, reaching for another chip.
"No, no, I'm pretty sure you said something."
"Nicholas Wilde, I don't know what you're talking about. Besides, I meant crazy stories about your family and siblings and stuff."
Nick's ears instinctively fell back against his head. He hated that they were always such a dead giveaway of his mood, but knew there was little he could do about it. "Carrots, I didn't have any brothers or sisters growing up," he said, doing his best to sound as neutral about the statement as possible. "Plenty of friends on my block, though."
"Oh, I never knew you were an only child," she said. Her tone fell from its chipper tower. Judy had looked into Nick before he joined the force, but documents about his family were few and far between. Unsurprisingly, she thought.
Nick cringed internally. This is exactly what I wanted to avoid earlier.
"Well, I'm sure you drove your parents nuts at least," she giggled half-heartedly. "I can't imagine a Nick Wilde that wasn't in trouble 24/7." He appreciated her attempt at switching gears, though he knew it was fruitless.
"I... well, not exactly," he said. "I am interested in hearing how young Judy wrangled a dozen younger siblings, though." He smiled at her like he used to smile at lemmings before he sold them overpriced popsicles, and he hated it.
"But I've been talking your ears off, and to be honest it's making me a little self-conscious," she said. One of her paws went up and started fidgeting with the base of her ears. "I'm not used to talking about myself this much, and I feel like I barely know anything about what you were like as a kid."
His smile slowly crumbled. "Carrots, that's kinda been by design, if you know what I mean," he said. He sighed, looking down at his lap. "My, uh, Dad wasn't really in the picture, so Mom worked her tail off to give me the opportunity to do what I wanted. I, uh, don't really remember anything about my dad."
Judy's mouth opened, but no words came out. She berated herself internally for pushing the issue. This was supposed to be a nice night, dammit, and you just had to press him for answers, she thought. Way to go, you pushed too hard yet again.
She extended a paw to him, but pulled it back halfway to his arm. "I- er, Nick, I'm so sorry for bringing it up, I shou-"
Nick's head snapped up to look at her. "No! Uh, I mean, no, it's okay, Fluff," he said. She'd laid her arm down on the table, and he took the opportunity to rest his paw on hers. She jumped slightly at the touch, returning his stare. "I mean, I don't like talking about it, but you're my partner and friend. If there's anyone that I could talk about it with, it's you."
"Nick, you don't have to-"
He held the his other paw up. "Carrots, please. I think…" He stopped to think of the right words to say. He became aware that his paw was shaking a bit, and tried to force it to be silent. "I think talking about this with you would be different. Cathartic, even."
She stayed silent, digesting what he was saying. "Have you talked to anyone about all this before?" she asked.
"Well, Finnick, definitely," he said. "He's got a few years on me, so he helped me through a lot of it when I was younger. For such a vengeful little bastard, he can be a good listener."
The two shared a laugh at Finnick's expense. It was one of Nick's favorite pastimes.
Judy spoke first. "Nick, if you really want to, then I'm here to listen with, well, the largest ears that have ever heard the story."
"I'm not so sure, you may have him on height, but Finnick might just edge you out on surface area," he chuckled. Judy rolled her eyes.
"Well, if you're offering to listen," he said. "Like I mentioned, dad wasn't really in the picture. I never did get a straight story out of mom, but you know all those stereotypes about foxes? I think he basically fit every one of them."
He paused to take a drink of water. Judy wanted to say something, to jump ahead and tell him it's alright, like she used to do with her younger siblings. She forced herself, however, to just listen.
"She, gods, she worked her tail off all the time," he continued. "It's why I was so upset after that Ranger Scouts meeting. She tried to hide it from me, but I knew it cost a lot to get that uniform, even if it wasn't new. So when it turned out the way it did…"
"You felt like you let her down?"
He nodded. "I didn't know how to face anything after that. Wasn't long after that I did my first popsicle hustle. Made a couple of bucks, and Mom found her wallet a little heavier the next morning. It was just me and her there for a while."
Nick had retracted his paw, and found himself almost slouching in his seat. Talking about this was easier than he'd expected it. No, talking about this with Judy is easier than I expected, he thought. Although I probably should have guessed it would work out like this.
"Your mom, is she still… you know," Judy asked slowly, her voice dancing over invisible eggshells.
Nick's face scrunched together in confusion before finally getting it. "Oh! Oh, yeah, she's still alive, Carrots, don't worry about that. Vivian Wilde ain't going down that easy," he laughed. "Visited her just a few weeks before meeting you. Told her about the whole amusement park idea. She seemed to really like it."
"Have you seen her since becoming a cop?" she asked.
Nick grimaced. His collar began to heat up uncomfortably. "Er, not… exactly. I'm kinda, uh, due up for a visit, I guess."
Judy's eyes nearly bugged out of her head. "What? I- you, does she even know you're a cop?"
"Well duh, it was all over the papers. She lives in the city, so yeah, she knows."
Judy was nearly steaming at this point. She wasn't sure where this anger was coming from, but she felt compelled to give Nick a stern talking to in place of his mother. "You're telling me that you've been the first fox officer in the entire city of Zootopia for nearly nine months and you haven't even visited your mom to talk to her about it?"
Nick's ears perked after hearing a rhythmic thump thump thump from under the table. Oh boy, she's tapping her foot, he thought. How did this turn into an interrogation about me? I was pouring my heart out back there! Why am I always the victim… He wasn't sure when his inner voice had gotten so whiny, but he figured he'd earned the right to whine a bit with how Judy was talking to him. The tapping was almost soothing, in an impending doom sort of way.
"I, uh, yeah, that's an accurate representation of the situation, more or less," he said. "Though it's really been closer to eight months, just saying."
He cowered and shriveled into his seat. He still sat several inches higher than her, but she may as well have been towering over him. "Well, I know what we're doing next weekend," she said with a huff.
Nick gulped. "Oh, really? And, er, what is that, if you don't mind me ask-"
"You're taking me to meet your mom, and I don't want to hear any buts about it."
"Whatever you say, Bonnie," he muttered.
"Excuse me? Wanna run that by me one more time?"
Nick's prayer on high for a savior was answered when the doe waitress brought their food over, carefully balanced on each hoof. "Eggplant bisque for the fox, and raspberry arugula for the bunny," she said, deftly setting down each plate. Nick had to admire the dexterity to handle their plates without any fingers. "Either of you need anything else?" the doe asked.
"No, we're good for right now," Judy replied, the usual cheer back in her voice, as though the events leading up to the wrathful vengeance she was about to smite Nick with had never occurred. The doe nodded and glided over to another table to help more customers.
"Anyway, as I was saying," Judy began, taking a bite of her salad. "We're visiting your mom next week and there's nothing you can do to stop it, so might as well get used to it." She talked while chewing, though Nick had to admit it didn't bother him like it usually did.
Nick sighed, his head drooping forward. "There's no way to talk you out of this, is there?" he asked. Judy shook her head, taking another bite of her meal.
"Well, then you'll have to prepare," he said, a warning creeping on the edges of his voice. Judy picked up on it and stopped chewing. "Because if I know Vivian Wilde, and I think I do, she doesn't let just anyone work with her little boy. If you think Bogo can grill someone for info, just wait until you meet my dear old mother."
Judy swallowed, nearly choking on the half-chewed salad. The ramifications of her boldness were beginning to set it. Nick happily sampled his soup, and sighed when it hit his lips. "Excellent recommendation on the soup, by the way," he said. "You were right, this is amazing."
Judy snapped herself out of her daze, making a note to panic about meeting Nick's mother later. Although he'd opened up about much of his life already, she felt compelled to press on one more thing. "Nick, is all of this, your dad not being around, not seeing your mom, getting into hustling as a kit, is all of that why you're so interested in my life?" she asked.
Nick's paw halted halfway to his mouth, and he set the spoon down back in his bowl. "Carrots, I… I mean, yeah, that's part of it, I guess," he began. "Curiosity about what life was like with a gazillion brothers and sisters and two parents, but that's not the real reason. I'm interested in your life because you're my partner and best friend. Doesn't take a detective to figure that out, to be honest."
He ended with a shrug and returned to his soup, leaving Judy smiling as she stared at her lap. "Well, I've got a million stories, although I find it hard to believe that they're even remotely interesting," she said. "I can tell you more when we're out on patrol if you want."
Nick nodded. "I wouldn't mind. It would help break the boredom when mammal watching gets old," he said.
"There's a catch, though," she said.
Nick rolled his eyes. "Of course there is. And what kind of hard bargain are you driving?"
She leaned back in her seat, folding her arms over her chest. It wasn't often that she got to be on this side of negotiations, and the smirk on her face told Nick she loved every second of it.
"I want to hear some stories about you. It's no fair that I get to be an open book while you get to keep playing the 'mysterious fox with a checkered past' card."
"But a handsome face and mysterious past are all I have," Nick whined, dramatically sticking his lower lip out in a pout. A grumpy spoonful of soup found his mouth, and he pondered a moment. "Alright, Fluff, you get some stories about me, I get some stories about you, everyone's happy."
Judy had to contain a squeal from coming out. "Deal!" she said, extending her paw. Nick chuckled and took it, sealing their deal.
"Good, now that's out of the way, I can finally enjoy my meal," she said, diving into her salad again with vigor.
"Oh, what, were my tales of childhood woe holding you up? So sorry, princess," Nick teased.
Judy stuck her tongue out at him before taking another bite. Nick saw the room for silence and returned to his own meal. The pair ate in peace for a minute, enjoying the sounds of the restaurant around them. Nick caught a few furtive glances of Judy while he ate. The dimmed atmosphere cast light shadows across her face, and he found it hard not to admire her features in the low light. A slightly-too-large bite of salad gave her a mild coughing fit, breaking the perfection of his daydream. "Ever hear of chewing, Carrots?" he chuckled.
"In fact, I have heard of chewing carrots. Did that almost every dinner back on the farm," she retorted.
"Wha- oh, haha, you think you're so clever, don't you," he replied.
"Yeah, I think so," she said, her voice ripe with the airy self-satisfaction that Nick normally only heard out of his own mouth. "Especially after a certain fox refuses to quit teasing me."
"Oh, come on, you know you love me," he countered. His eyes immediately went wide once he heard what he'd said. His mind hearkened back to their first day on patrol when they'd busted Flash for speeding; the change in meaning from then to now was so thick he thought he was choking on it.
Judy stared back at him in stunned silence. "Do I know that?" she asked. "I- wait a second-" An ear cocked toward a corner of the restaurant, while her face scrunched up in confusion.
"Uh, Fluff? What were you gonna sa-"
Judy shushed him and turned around in her seat, trying to find the source of whatever she'd heard. Nick groaned inwardly; while foxes couldn't sweat, he imagined if he could, the lingering anticipation of what she was going to say next would have him drenched.
"I hear something, but there's no way I'm hearing it right," Judy said.
"Huh? What, like something dangerous?" he asked.
Judy shook her head and waved him off. "No, no, nothing like that, but I think I-"
She stopped once her eyes caught sight of her target: a rather rotund fox with an old-fashioned haircut talking in a thick country accent to a slender goat who Judy could only guess was the owner. The two were laughing together near the front of the restaurant and shaking paws.
"Gideon Grey?" she said, a little louder than she'd intended. The fox looked over in her direction at the mention of his name. His face lit up once he saw the source, and waved over to her. "Judy Hopps?" he called back. He whispered something to the goat, who nodded and turned toward the kitchen, while Gideon made a beeline for Judy's table.
"Holy cow, it is you," Gideon said. A wide smile showed off his teeth. "Judy Hopps, right here! Small world, I guess."
Nick stared back and forth between the portly fox and Judy. Nick immediately pegged Gideon as a childhood friend of Judy's, if his thick accent was any indication.
"Wow, Gideon, I can't believe you're here in the city," Judy replied. "What are you doing so far outside of Bunnyburrow?"
A fox in Bunnyburrow? Poor bastard, Nick thought. Probably not too many predators out there. While he did have the occasional prey acquaintance growing up, his ill-fated encounter with the Junior Ranger Scouts made Nick stick with predators for most of his childhood. The idea of growing up surrounded by rabbits, sheep and squirrels sounded suffocating.
"Well, shoot, after seein' what a bigshot you'd become around here, I figured it was high time I grow the bakery," he said. "I'm tryin' to get some of my pies and cakes sold up here in the big city. You know, get my name out there, become a real entree-preneur."
Judy smiled wide, her ears standing straight up. "Gideon, that sounds fantastic! If the stuff my mom says about your pies is even half true, you'll be a culinary star of Zootopia in no time," she said.
Nick wasn't quite sure how a fox could blush through his fur, and he wasn't sure whether to be impressed or disturbed that Gideon pulled it off. "Aw, shucks, I don't know about none of that," he said. "Just lookin' for a bit of extra spendin' money is all. Maybe take on another employee, expand the buildin', that sorta thing."
Gideon turned his head toward Nick slightly, his nose quietly sniffing the air. He raised an eyebrow. What, he think I stink like the city or something? Nick wondered. Immediately, guilt drizzled down on him like a grey Thursday afternoon; he didn't have any reason to be suspicious of this fox, even if his manners left a bit to be desired.
"I think it sounds like a fantastic idea," Judy replied. As soon as she'd finished her sentence, a rumbling in her stomach gave her pause, which morphed into concern she felt pressure in her lower abdomen. By the time she stood up out of the booth, she was cursing her small bladder, and knew she didn't have long. "Um, I've got to use the little doe's room, I'll be right back," she said. She turned to Nick and mouthed I'm sorry. "Nick, you can, uh, get acquainted with Gideon in the meantime!"
A little warning would be nice. Why always when I'm out at dinner on a date, Judy whined in her head. She realized she'd just called this a date, but the omnipresent groaning from her abdomen told her there was no time to consider the implications of such a thought
Gideon stepped aside to let her out of the booth. Nick noticed she was making a poor attempt to walk quickly while appearing aloof, and rolled his eyes. "Heh, Bunny bladders," he chuckled. "I swear she leaves her desk ten times a day."
He turned toward Gideon, and the pair stared for about two seconds past uncomfortable before looking away. "So, uh, how goes the date?" Gideon asked.
Nick's head whipped around to face him. "Date? What makes you think this is a date?" he replied. "What, a fox can't have a pleasant evening out with his bunny friend?"
Gideon snickered and covered his mouth with a paw. Nick's opinion of the fox was steadily dropping. "Mind filling me in on what's so funny, fox to fox?" he asked.
"Uh, these other folks might not be able to tell, but do you know what you smell like right now?" Gideon replied.
Nick looked down at himself and raised an arm, taking a tentative sniff. "What, I smell like city fox or something?"
Gideon continued to giggle at the same rate that Nick's patience was dropping. "No, no, I mean what you smell like. You got city education, so ya know what pheromones are, right? 'Cause you're lettin' every fox in a square mile know that whoever's sittin' across from you is yours, and paws off."
Nick's pupils became pinpricks as what Gideon said settled in like a bad hangover. He took another sniff again, and there it was, plain as day; the overbearing stench of a lovesick fox. How the hell didn't I notice this before? he thought. He slumped over, his paws running over his face. "Oh, gods, is it that bad?" he asked.
Gideon's snickering persisted like a cold. "Boy, as soon as I walked in the room I couldn't even smell my pies anymore. I doubt anyone who ain't a fox has caught on, but I'd imagine every fox in the city's gonna steer clear of you."
Nick groaned. "Ugh, I'm out of Musk Mask at my place, too. Why do they sell it in such small bottles, anyway?"
"I know, tell me about it," Gideon whinged. "You know how hard that crap is to get out in the Burrows? Shipping and handling fees for Mask is gonna put me outta business at this rate. Price gougin' thieves, I tell ya."
"Hey, at least out there you don't have too many other foxes that'll catch on," Nick replied, a smile creeping across his muzzle. He hadn't intended to get into the pity Olympics with Gideon, but there never was a fox that didn't take the opportunity to complain about how expensive Musk Mask was. "Out here, high school was a nightmare. Every other fox knew when you had a crush on a vixen, or, uh, other mammal."
"At least out here, you got other smells to cover it up," Gideon said. "In the country, the wind carries. Mask might make you smell okay, but when you went and stunk up a whole field, there's not enough of that stuff in the world to get it out."
The two shared a laugh, the awkwardness now vanished without a trace. Nick grinned and extended his paw. "Officer Nick Wilde," he said. "Any friend of Judy's is a friend of mine."
Gideon took his paw and shook it warmly. "Gideon, Gideon Grey," he replied. "So, uh, you never answered my question. How's the date goin'?"
Nick ran a paw and slicked back his ears, groaning in frustration. "Ugh, I, well, I think it's going okay? She's having a good time, at least."
"She know it's a date?" Gideon asked.
Nick sucked air in through his teeth and held his breath, exhaling slowly. "Um, that's not really, uh, something that she may or may not be aware of, no."
Nick wasn't quite sure what to call the noise Gideon had made, but if he had to guess, he'd call it a guffaw. "So you think you're on a date, and Judy over there don't have a clue?" Gideon asked.
"Ugh, I don't know," Nick said. His face found one of his paws as he groaned. He wasn't quite sure why he was opening up to who was functionally a stranger. Eh, screw it. He's a fox, I'm a fox, what more do you need, right? he thought. "I mean, we're having a good time, at least. I've been on plenty of dates, and this certainly feels like one. Might just be wishful thinking talking, but I think it's a date. She's told me plenty of stories about the farm, and in my experience, childhood stories are usually date talk."
Gideon recoiled enough for Nick to notice at the mention of the farm. "Stories, huh?" he asked tentatively. "She, uh, mention me at all?"
"...No, why, should she have mentioned you?" he replied, squinting at him. His eyes shot open as a light went off in his head. "Wait, you two didn't, like, date or anything, did you? Are you responsible for her thing for foxes?"
Gideon rolled his eyes. "I thought you wasn't sure that this was a date. How're you so sure she's got a thing for foxes?"
"Uh, I mean, it's a hypothesis I've been working on," he replied.
"Well, in any case, no, we definitely didn't date and if she does have a thing for foxes, it ain't on account of me," Gideon said. "It's really the, well, it's really the opposite. If she is on a date with you, then I'm mighty impressed by how far she's come considerin' our, uh, history."
Nick cocked his head slightly. "History? What are you talking about?" he asked.
"Well, it's nothin' I'm proud of, but I don't shy away from it, neither," Gideon sighed. "I was sort of a schoolyard bully growin' up. Everyone was so scared of foxes, I figured I'd give 'em what they expected."
"Boy, don't I know that feeling," Nick muttered.
"Bein' the only fox for miles didn't help none, either. I also had, uh, other personal stuff I was workin' through," Gideon continued. "That's all excuses, though. I was angry and took it out on all the sheep and bunnies in town."
Nick extended a paw to Gideon's shoulder. "Hey, c'mon, so you were a bit of a jerk as a kit. It's water under the bridge," he said.
"It wasn't really just bein' a jerk," Gideon replied, brushing Nick's paw off. "You ever notice a scar on Judy's cheek? I imagine it's real shallow now, but it's there."
Nick thought back; he couldn't recall any scar, but he did remember Judy absentmindedly touching her left cheek now and again. "I vaguely recall one, why?"
"That's on account of me," he said. Gideon stared at the floor as the memories of his youth played through his mind. "I treated Judy like dirt, told her she'd never be a cop, that sorta thing. I wanted so badly to be a big, scary predator."
Nick's mind flew to his first encounter with Judy and how harshly she'd judged him. At the now-infamous press conference, when she'd cowered when he'd extended his claws toward her. The only fox she knew growing up attacked her and tried to make her feel worthless, he thought. I was probably the second fox she'd ever met.
"What're you, uh, thinking?" Gideon asked, chuckling uncomfortably. "I ain't self-conscious or nothin', but I did just kinda pour my guts out to a total stranger."
"Huh? Oh, nothing," Nick replied, snapping back to the present. "That just explains a few things, I guess. I didn't realize she'd only ever known one fox before she met me."
"Well, there was my folks, but the Hopps family never really came over for supper, if you catch my meanin'," he said.
"Yeah, I getcha. Hey, thanks, Gideon. I mean it. I doubt she'd have told me all that stuff herself," Nick said. "And don't beat yourself up so much over it. Judy's not really one to hold a grudge."
Gideon laughed. "Yeah, she sure ain't. And honestly, I'm in a lot better place now, but I can't let myself forget what got me here, you know?"
"More than you think, I bet," Nick replied.
A comfortable silence settled over the pair for a few moments. Nick took the opportunity to take a drink; he hadn't realized how thirsty he'd gotten during their conversation.
"Hey, you mind if I give you a bit of friendly advice? Fox to fox, I mean," Gideon asked.
Nick set his glass down and shrugged. "Knock yourself out."
"Now, I ain't meanin' this in a rude way, but I've known Judy a lot longer than you have," he began. "But I'm sure you know the one thing about Judy that makes her so Judy."
Nick stared back at Gideon, nodding his head more in confusion than understanding. "Uh, sure I do. Let's say I didn't, though. Where are you going with this, exactly?"
"She don't give up for anythin'," Gideon said. "No matter what it is, if Judy Hopps wants it, she's gonna get it. Whether it was pitchin' on the school softball team, or bein' a cop, or tellin' me to shove it, she doesn't let nothin' get in her way."
"Yeah, you can say that again," Nick replied. "I don't think I've ever seen Judy lose a perp, no matter how big or small they are."
"Exactly. She wants it, she gets it, one way or another," Gideon said. "So my advice? Just relax, friend. If she thinks this is a date, and she's interested, I don't think it matters whether you're interested too or not. She's gonna have ya, and there's nothin' you can do about it."
Nick surprised himself by laughing out loud at his advice. "Hah, you know what, Gideon? That's honestly some pretty good advice. A lot better than what I expected from a country boy pastry chef."
"Pastry and confectionery chef, I'll have you know," Gideon replied cheekily. "Besides, I don't think you got much to worry about."
"Hmm? What do you mean?" Nick asked.
"Well, you're lettin' off gallons of pheromones, right?"
Nick rolled his eyes. "Yes, we've already been over this embarrassing fact. What's your point?"
"Well, maybe it's 'cause your nose is dulled from all the smells of the city, but you know bunnies got pheromones too, right?" Gideon asked. He bore a wolfish grin that didn't altogether match his pudgy frame.
"I, uh, what do you mean? What, do you smell something?" Nick asked, his voice teetering on the edge of panic.
"I wouldn't worry too much about it, Nick," Gideon replied. "Oh, and there she is!" He gestured over to Judy, who quickly made it back to her seat.
"Sorry about that, had to, uh, powder my nose," Judy said. She plopped back into her spot at the table before the look that Gideon and Nick were giving each other made her pause. "Um, what did you two talk about while I was gone?" she asked.
"Oh, you know, just fox stuff," Gideon replied. He shot a furtive glance back at Nick as he spoke.
"Yeah, fox-to-fox. Gideon here gave me a big spiel about protecting your honor and 'If I so much as laid a paw on you, then I'd wake up dazed and shaved out in the sticks of Bunnyburrow,' or something like that," Nick said.
Judy barely contained a snort of laughter out of her nose. "Gideon, I didn't realize you were so protective of me," she giggled.
Gideon put his paws on either side of his belly, sliding over the strained stitching on his overalls. "Yup, that's me, regular knight in shining armor. Got the body for it to boot, too," he chuckled.
Soon, the whole table had erupted in laughter, much to the derision of some of the neighboring booths. "Gideon, it was really great to see you. We should catch up sometime," Judy said, wiping a tear from her eye.
"That'd suit me just fine," he replied. "Well, I don't wanna overstay my welcome. I'll let y'all get back to your meal. It was nice meetin' ya, Nick." He extended his paw, which Nick took firmly.
"Likewise, Gideon. If you ever need any help in the city, Judy has my number," he said.
"Oh, make sure you say hi to Travis from me, too," Judy said.
Gideon nodded and turned to walk away. "Sure thing, Judy! Gods know I see him every night as it is," he said while a smirk played across his lips. The change in expression wasn't missed on Nick, who turned back to Judy.
"Who's Travis?" he asked.
"Gideon's best friend from when we were kids," Judy replied. "I think Gideon told me he helps him out at the bakery. Not many other mammals liked them growing up, so I think it's sweet that they're still such good friends."
Gideons' expression replayed itself in Nick's head. "...Yeah, 'good friends,' sure," he said, taking a sip from his drink.
"Huh? What do you mean?" Judy asked.
Nick calmly set his drink back down and smiled. "Nothing, don't worry about it, Carrots," he said. "Also, 'powder your nose?' You didn't even bring anything with you into the bathroom."
She blushed faintly pink under her grey fur. "Hey, can we not talk about me going to the bathroom at dinner?" she blustered.
Nick shrugged. "Sure, but next time tell a more convincing lie." His snark was rewarded with one of his favorite things in the world; a famed, genuine Judy Hopps pout. "Aw, c'mon, don't be like that," he cooed. He reached out with one of his feet and tickled the sole of her paw under the table. "Especially when you clearly can't stop smiling in my presence like this."
Nick's ministrations immediately made Judy break out into a fit of giggles. She kicked her legs under the table, doing her best to swat away her attacker. "N-Nick, quit it, this is a fancy restaurant!" she laughed. "You're gonna get us thrown out!"
Mischief made, Nick sighed contentedly and pulled his foot back. "Whatever you say, officer," he replied. He returned to his soup and was happy to find that it was still pleasantly warm.
Judy took a bite of her salad before speaking up again. "Hey, do you wanna try some of this salad?" she asked. "It's really good. I bet you'd like it."
Nick looked up from his spoon and shrugged. "Sure, but I don't have a plate to put any on, how am I going to try it-"
He was interrupted by Judy reaching over to him with a fork laden with arugula, pine nuts, red onion, and vinaigrette. He stared at her, at the fork, and back to her. "Uh, Fluff, I appreciate it, but I'm a grown-"
Judy rolled her eyes and slowly moved the fork toward his muzzle. "Oh, quit being such a baby and just take a bite. I promise your masculinity won't take a hit."
Nick opened his mouth to retort, but thought better of it. He leaned forward and accepted the bite. The heat in his cheeks kindly informed him of his embarrassment at being fed by a bunny in public, but he had to admit, it was a great salad. Judy pulled her fork back and set it back down on her plate. "So, what did you think?" she asked.
Nick chewed slowly and swallowed. Judy was looking at him without the slightest trace of amusement or deviousness. He hadn't been fed by another mammal in nearly three decades, and the feeling still left him uncomfortably warm. "It was, uh, pretty good," Nick replied. "I might have to order it next time."
"Oh, there's a next time?" Judy asked. Her ears perked and twitched slightly. "Well, if we come again, I want to split the check. There's no way I'm letting you pay my way a second time."
Nick shook his head. "Oh, you bunnies and your pride," he said. "Sure, next time we come, you can be a big girl and pay for yourself."
Judy nodded and started on her salad again. "You're damn right I can," she said, her voice drenched in overbearing confidence. Nick couldn't help but laugh.
"Carrots, it's not a competition," he said. "And we know how much the other makes. I'd pay for your meal if you wanted me to. Hell, even if you didn't want me to."
The fluttering in Judy's chest had returned as Nick spoke. "Well, as nice as that sounds, I couldn't do that to you," she replied, before quietly adding, "I do really appreciate it, though. Thanks."
"Don't mention it," he said. The pair descended back into silence as they comfortably finished off their food. Their doe waitress soon came back around to their table right as their plates became empty. "So, can I get either of you any dessert?" she asked, scooping up the dishes into her free hoof.
"Nah, I'm good over here," Nick said. "Fluff, what about you?"
Judy's face scrunched up in concentration as she scanned through a dessert menu on the table. "Hmm, I… no, I'm good, thanks," she said.
"Carrots, if you want something, go ahead and order it," Nick said. "Don't hold back on my account or anything."
"No, don't worry about it, I don't need anything," she replied, tucking the menu back into the holder on the table.
"What? I've seen you put away way more than just that salad," he said. "Seriously, I don't mind."
Judy stared down at her paws and mumbled something. "What? I didn't catch that," Nick said.
"...don't have…" was all Nick could get out the second time. "Fluff, speak up, I can't hear you."
Judy sighed. "They… don't have any carrot cake," she said. "If they had carrot cake, I'd order it, but they don't, so I won't."
Nick had to restrain himself from chuckling. "Oh, well, I'll remember the next time we grab dinner to pick a place that has genuine carrot cake for our resident country bunny," he replied.
He dodged Judy's death glare by turning and reaching for his wallet. He pulled out his card and slid it to the waitress, who dashed away with it in a blink.
Judy was still huffing over the carrot cake remark, much to Nick's devious glee. "I gotta say, Fluff, you were right. This place was pretty good," he said in an attempt to whittle down her frustration.
"You're not off the hook for the country bunny line," she replied. "But thanks. I knew you'd like it."
Nick noticed the beginnings of a smile tugging at her mouth. Looks like I am off the hook after all, he thought.
"So what made you think of me when you were here?" he asked. "Couldn't have been the food, considering you didn't know your partner of nearly a year was a vegetarian."
"I'll have you know your name came up in conversation, that's all," she replied curtly. "Besides, the food is good, and I know what a pushover you are for a decent meal after work."
"Oof, you got me there, Carrots," he said. "So you, uh, had a good time with Cam, then? He wasn't a maniacal hare with an evil mustache trying to tie you to a train track?"
Judy broke into a fit of giggles. "Y-yup, that's exactly it," she said through her laughter. "It was all a scheme to fulfill his lifelong dream of being a cartoon villain." Nick couldn't help but smile at her attempts to control her giggling, though a grimace at the visage of Cam grinning like he'd won something bubbled under the surface.
"In all honesty, he's a nice guy, and he gave me some pretty good advice," she said. "So please, for the sake of cheese and crackers, don't worry about me, okay?"
Nick sighed. "I'm not sure that's possible, Fluff."
The waitress returned with his card, which he slipped back into his wallet. "What do you mean?" Judy asked.
Nick slicked back his ears and leaned forward. "Look, when we're out on patrol, you worry about me, right?" he asked.
"I mean, I know you can handle yourself-"
"But you still worry, even a tiny bit, right?"
Judy paused. "Well… yeah, I suppose I do. So?"
"So it's the same from me." Nick reached out and lay a paw on hers. "Believe me, Carrots, I know how tough and competent you are. Hell, I can barely keep up sometimes. Just look at today's ticket counts. But despite all that, there's still a small part of me that worries that if things go awry, I won't be able to help."
Nick slid his paw off Judy's and leaned back, shutting his eyes. "Ugh, listen to me, I sound like an overburdened mother," he said.
"No, you don't," Judy replied. She took several moments before speaking again to gather her thoughts. One of Nick's eyes had peeped open, watching her intently. "You sound like… a good partner," she said at last. "I know we'll worry about each other a bit while we're out on patrol. Heck, if some vixen bartender wandered over here and wanted to give you a tip about something illegal going on, I'd probably have my doubts," she chuckled.
Nick's ears perked. "Oh, so you'd be jealous about a vixen informant who wanted to talk only to me, huh?" he asked.
Judy's cheeks bloomed with pink. "What? No, that's not what I meant! I definitely wouldn't be jealous," she replied hastily. "Wait, are you implying that you were jealous? Is that it?"
Nick wasn't fond of Judy's ability to flip a conversation back at him so quickly. "Psh, me, jealous? Of Cotton McBowtieface? Not likely," he responded, putting on his best flippant attitude.
Judy squinted at him. "If you say so…" she said. "Ugh, I don't even remember what I was saying."
Nick shook his head. "You were saying that I shouldn't feel stupid about being worried about you, but that I shouldn't be worried about anything in this particular instance," he said. "Despite my concerns about the aforementioned Cotton McBowtieface."
Judy couldn't help but laugh at Nick's nicknames for people. "Yup, that's exactly what I was saying. Thanks," she said.
Nick sat back in his seat contentedly, although he was slightly miffed his nickname for Cam hadn't even warranted a half-hearted chuckle out of Judy. "So, Fluff, you up to head back? I'd say we've had a pretty full day," he said.
Judy nodded in affirmation. She pulled out the small wallet she kept in her front pocket and laid a few bills on the table as she got up. Nick noticed and raised an eyebrow. "Uh, Carrots, I thought I was covering the meal?" he asked.
"You are paying, but we agreed that I would get the tip, remember?" she asked. "Don't tell me you forgot?"
A sheepish, toothy grin spread across Nick's muzzle. "Ah, no, of course not!" he replied. "I was just making sure our waitress would be happy when I tipped on the card just a minute ago. Definitely didn't forget though, nope."
Judy shook her head. "You're ridiculous," she said. "Well, I'm definitely leaving a tip. The waitress was really nice. There's no point in arguing about it, so let's just head back to the car."
Nick scoffed with faux indignation. "Well, I never," he sighed. "Be spoken to in this manner, and at dinner of all places. How could you, Fluff?"
"I'd have stayed in acting school, Wilde, you missed a few lessons," she said. Nick hopped out of his seat and followed her out of the door, waving once to their smiling waitress as she arrived to bus the table.
Once outside, Judy quickly circled around the car, peering along every surface. "Uh, feel like letting me in on what you're up to?" Nick asked.
"I'm just checking to make sure there's not any scratches or anything," she replied, eyes never leaving the car. After a 15 second cursory inspection, Judy was satisfied. "Hey, catch," she called out and flipped the keys to him.
Nick bobbled the keys in his paws before looking at her. "What? Why are you giving the keys to me?" he asked.
"Well, I already had my turn, so I figured you'd want a chance to drive it."
Nick smiled and tossed the keys back to her. "I'm flattered, but I've driven my fair share of cool cars before. Besides, you picked this one out. You should drive it back."
Judy beamed and hopped over to the driver-side door. "Well, if you insist," she said hastily before bounding inside. Nick chuckled and sat himself next to her.
"So, to your place, then I can drop the car off back at the lot?" he asked.
The reminder that they couldn't keep the car earned a sulk from Judy. "Right, we don't get to keep it forever…" she grumbled. "Yeah, I suppose that makes sense."
The night was clear and crisp, and a light breeze blew through their fur. Although the light from Zootopia drowned out most of the night sky, a few of the brightest stars peeked out in view. "Hey, why don't I put the top back down? Figure it'll make for a nicer drive," Nick said. "Get to see the moon and everything."
"Oh, right," she replied. "Actually, that'd be really great. Thanks, Nick."
Nick did a little bow, for which he was rewarded with a small giggle. "Don't overdo it, though," she said as he deftly put the top back down behind them. Within 20 seconds, he was back in his seat.
Judy looked up at the sky before turning the engine on. The moon towered above them, glowing an orange ochre; a gigantic harvest moon. "Oh, Nick, look at the moon!" Judy said, pointing to direct his gaze upward. "It's so big!"
Nick wanted to pretend to be unimpressed, but even he had to admit it was quite a sight. "Wow, I don't think I've ever seen it look like that," he replied. "You know, they say that when the moon looks like that, it's a sign of a long, healthy life and lots of children in your future."
Judy gawked at him. "Wait, seriously?"
"Hah, no, but you wouldn't have been able to tell otherwise, right?" Nick laughed.
His shoulder once more felt the sting of justice. Judy turned the key in the ignition and started pulling out of the parking lot.
"You know, I've been meaning to ask you," Nick began. "Where'd you get such an arm? I swear I've been hit by bunnies before, and none of them ever felt like when you do it."
The night air was rushing past them as Judy drove through the decidedly clearer streets of the city. "To be honest, you kind of learn how to throw a decent punch when you have a literal score of brothers," she replied. "It was that, or have my ears pulled and keepaway being played with my doll."
Nick paused long enough to let her words settle in. "Wait, doll? You played with dolls as a kit?" he chuckled. "Have to say, Carrots, I never figured you for the girly type."
Judy blushed faintly under her fur. "Well, it wasn't a doll, per se, more of a, uh," she started. "Okay, it was kind of a doll, but it was a police doll! It had the uniform and hat and badge and everything!"
"Really? I didn't think they made dolls like that."
"Yeah, one holiday my mom decided to indulge my 'fantasy' a bit and managed to find a bunny doll with a police uniform, though I'm not sure how. It had to be just about the only one in existence," she chuckled. "At first I thought she'd made it herself, but I don't think she had the time to dedicate to a single kit's present. Maybe she had it ordered? In fact…"
Nick started to zone out as Judy went into detail about that particular holiday. He tried to stay interested in how her brother Billy nearly caught the tree on fire and set off almost every sprinkler in the burrow, but he was too focused on how the moonlight lay across her grey fur, giving it a dull shine, and how her ears lazily flopped in the wind of the convertible. He says vaguely aware that she was talking, but try as he might, he couldn't take his eyes off her.
"Hello, Earth to Nick?" Judy asked, snapping him out of his reverie. The lavender of her irises almost seemed to glow in the night. "Were you even paying attention?"
"Uh, yes!" he responded, a bit too hastily for Judy's liking. "Basically, Billy is an idiot, right?" He hoped that was enough information to give her the impression of his rapt attention.
Judy glanced to him a few times, squinting intently, before returning her focus to the road. "Yeah, that's basically the gist of it," she said. "You just kinda glazed over there for a few seconds. Do you feel okay?"
As she looked over to him again, he was caught once again by the intensity of her eyes. She was a siren from an old pirates' tale, but instead of a song, all she had to do was voice her concern for him.
It was at that moment that the entire night's events hit him, and he found himself dreading the sunrise in the morning, when the car would be back at the impound lot and he would no longer be on a date with this beautiful bunny.
She is beautiful, isn't she, he thought to no one in particular. Strong, pretty… His mind flickered momentarily to Cam sharing a laugh with Judy. He expected frustration, but found none. In its place, he found melancholy coming to a slow simmer in his stomach. Her eyes made him self-conscious through no fault of their own. Gods, I must look old compared to her.
"Huh? Oh, yeah, Fluff, I'm feeling fine," he said, putting on his best airs of confidence. "Sorry, it's such a cool night I got a little distracted, that's all."
By the way her brows relaxed, Nick figured that explanation satisfied her. He settled back into his seat as she slowly rounded a corner, only to find himself at Judy's apartment building. It stood a pale, ugly yellow, wedged between two buildings of similar age and lack of care. The chipped, faded brick stoop in front of the building must have seen thousands of hooves and paws over the years.
"Well, here we are," Judy said. "Thanks for a great dinner. I'll have to pay my way forward next time," she winked. She turned the keys, quieting the purring engine.
"No problem, Carrots. I'll look forward to a more full bank account next time," he teased. She stuck her tongue out at him before unbuckling her seatbelt and opening her door. Nick reciprocated and got out onto the sidewalk. Judy crossed the car, taking a moment to slide her paw along the hood.
"Seriously, thank you for talking me into being a little bad this one time," she said. "That was…"
"Well, yes, I was gonna say impulsive and risky, but it was those things, too."
The two shared a laugh before Judy sat down on the first step. She patted the space next to her, and Nick obliged and took a seat.
Judy looked up at him before he lowered himself next to her. Her heart beat just a little faster as his features were outlined in dusky moonlight above. The orange of the moon played well with his deep crimson fur.
"I can't wait to tell everyone about the car I got to drive!" she said, stamping her feet a bit as she thought of their amazement at Judy Hopps, master car thief.
"Uh, you might wanna keep it on the down low, Fluff," Nick said. "If the wrong people here it, a.k.a. Buffalo Butt, we still might get in trouble."
"Aw, shoot," Judy said, pouting. "Well, I guess I can tell Cameron about it. I bet he'd think it was hilarious."
Nick cringed at the the mention of Cam's name, despite his best efforts to stay stoic. He sighed internally when it became clear Judy had noticed.
"Something wrong? What, about Cameron?" she asked.
A million thoughts whizzed through Nick's head, and he was frozen between what he wanted to say, and what he figured he ought to say. His eyes scanned around for any sign or hint of guidance, but the only thing he could see in his head was Finnick smacking himself in the forehead.
Before he could reply, Judy spoke again. "Nick, you're not… jealous of Cam, are you?"
Nick figured the pounding in his chest must have reverberated throughout the neighborhood, and maybe even the city. His pupils shrunk to pinpricks, and while every muscle in his body screamed at him, he made his decision.
"Yes! Oh, gods, yes!" he shouted, bounding up from his sitting position, and nearly knocking Judy back. She leaned on her paws, mouth agape at his reaction. "I mean, holy shit, Fluff, I can't even begin to describe it! It's disgusting how jealous I am of that furball! Do you know how bad envy green looks with red fur? I mean, my fur goes great with my eyes, but envy green is sickening. I'm not supposed to get jealous, I'm supposed to make other mammals jealous! You remember the other night, after the stake-out, how I was so groggy that morning?"
Nick was frantically pacing back and forth, throwing his paws in the air wildly at random interjections through his speech. Judy said nothing, but nodded at his question.
"That's because I had to have been up for, damn, five hours? Maybe six? I don't know, I lost count after I nearly cried because I managed to get 20 minutes of sleep."
"Why couldn't you get any sleep?" she asked. She couldn't decide whether fear, pity, or compassion was what she should be feeling at his outburst, though she suspected it was a combination of the three.
"It's because I couldn't stop thinking about how you kissed me!" Nick exclaimed. Inwardly, Judy felt a pang of regret that Nick was probably waking up a lot of her neighbors, but she didn't think it was a good time to interrupt him.
"And I felt so awkward and tense the next day, and all the while he was so smooth and natural and charming and…"
He paused and stopped pacing. His shoulder was turned to Judy, and his tone dropped.
"And he's a bunny, like you," he said finally. "Not a fox, like me."
Judy stood up and took a step toward him. "...Nick, is that why you thought there was something between Cam and me? Because he's a hare?"
"Yes - well no, there was lots of stuff," he admitted. Judy thought he looked like a young kit that had been found guilty with his paw in a cookie jar. "But yeah, that played a part."
"Nick, he's not even a bunny, he's a hare."
He shrugged. "Same thing when you're being an idiot. Besides, aren't they, like, really close?"
"I mean, yeah, kinda," she replied before quickly shaking her head. "But that's not the point. Nick, just because another male rabbit is nice to me doesn't mean we're in a relationship, or even interested in one another."
Nick stayed silent for a few moments. "Well, it makes more sense than a bunny being with a natural predator like a fox."
The quiet night air hung between them for what felt like minutes to Nick, before it was broken but a light fit of giggles coming from Judy. He turned to her, wide-eyed and uncertain what could possibly be funny about the situation.
"O-oh, Nick, so what if you're a predator?" she asked, still shaking her laughter away. "I mean, you saw that hyena and stoat together, remember?"
Nick stared at his feet and felt strangely embarrassed about his confession. "W-well, they're still both predators, so-"
"One of them was practically a giant, and the other was just a hair shorter than me," she said. The sheer absurdity of his statement wasn't relinquishing its grip on her. That was what had him acting so weird? He felt guilty over being a predator? she thought.
"Nick, we see cross-species and pred-prey relationships all the time at work. Why would you feel any guilt over that?"
"I guess, I, uh, I don't know," he grumbled. He sat back down on the first step, causing his knees to come up around his muzzle. "I guess I felt like there wasn't any chance when there was a seemingly great guy of your own species standing right in front of you."
"Again, hares and bunnies aren't the same spec-"
"Yeah, yeah," Nick said, waving his paw at her. "Still closer than a fox and a bunny."
She sat back down next to him and placed a paw on his. "All you had to do was ask me about him, and I would have told you," she said.
"I know, but there's little sense to be talked into a dumb fox like me," he replied.
"Besides, after what I know now, I could have alleviated all that stress from you pretty quickly," Judy said, thinking back to her conversation with Cam.
Nick turned to her, cocking his head to the side in confusion. "What do you mean?"
Judy rolled her eyes. "Well, let's just say I don't have nearly enough fangs or claws for Mr. Cotton's liking."
Cameron sprinted around the corner of the kitchen on all fours, dashing toward the open bedroom door. His heart roared like thunder in his chest. He guessed it must have been moments away from giving out entirely. Just milliseconds behind him was a snarling, half-dressed lynx, her razor-sharp claws just inches away from tearing the meat from his bones. His ears burned as he cascaded into the bedroom and tried frantically to shut the door behind him, but was foiled when the lynx managed to jam one of her paws between the door and the frame.
He gulped, and felt exposed without his shirt on. It had been quickly shredded at the front door just a minute ago. Falling backwards, he began scooting toward the wall as he felt the lynx's hot breath against his chest. She steadily walked towards him with a predatory glint in her eye.
"N-no, please, you don't need to do thi-" Cam was interrupted by her agile paws grabbing him around his chest and tossing him onto the bed. Her claws left sharp indentations into his skin, almost enough to draw blood. He scampered toward the headboard while she gracefully leapt up to face him. Cam's head was pressed against the wood behind him. Her dripping maw was steadily getting closer to his face. He closed his eyes and waited for the worst.
However, no bite came. Instead, a soft pair of lips pressed against his forehead. He opened his eyes to see the hungry snarl on the lynx's face replaced with concern. "Oh, I'm not scaring you too much, am I?" she asked, bringing a paw up to Cam's cheek. "I know how frightened you bunnies can get."
Cam batted her paw away lightly. "Sarah, you don't need to worry, I didn't say the safe word!" he replied, pouting slightly.
Her paw deftly returned to its place. Cam unconsciously nuzzled his cheek against it. "I'm sorry, but you looked so scared! I was worried I was getting a little too real for you," she said.
"First of all, Sarah, I'll have you know I'm a hare, not a bunny" he replied coolly. "And second, no, this is amazing! You're such a good actress, I can hardly believe it!" Cam wasn't sure why he and Sarah were whispering, but they were. He caught himself giggling like a schoolboy, too, which was soon matched by his feline partner.
"You're not bad yourself, mister," she said, lazily dragging a claw along his exposed stomach. He shuddered at the touch. "I almost felt bad for you when you were begging for your life."
"What can I say, I have a flair for melodrama," he said, dramatically flipping one of his ears off his shoulder.
"Oh, and I hope you're not upset about your shirt," she said, wringing her paws together at the memory of her tearing his shirt from his body to start their scene off.
"Sweetheart, I'd let you shred a thousand shirts if it meant you could do it like that again," he replied, adding a sultry lilt to his voice.
She grinned, intentionally showing off her canines. "Well, in that case, why don't we get back to it," she said. One of her paws found the button to his pants, and with a single flick of her claw, sent the button flying. "So, do you know what happens to bunnies that find their way into a lynx's den when she's in heat?"
Cam gulped and shook his head eagerly.
Sarah leaned down and gave him one light peck on his lips. "Remember, the safe word is stake-out," she whispered before leaning in with her teeth.
Cam knew he was supposed to be acting terrified, but he couldn't suppress the grin on his face as her teeth made contact with his neck and her paws made their way to his pants.
"...You're kidding," Nick said, aghast. "Cam's been into preds the whole time?"
Judy nodded. "Yup, I don't think he ever had a single romantic thought about me since I've known him."
"B-but the dinner you two went on! That-"
"-was just a meal between friends, and nothing more," she concluded.
Nick leaned back, his head a few steps above the one he was sitting on, and barked dry laughter into the night. He smacked his face with one of his paws, letting it linger over his eyes. "I have to be the dumbest fox in all of Zootopia," he said.
Judy laughed. "Well, I'd say top five, at least," she said. She was still processing his outburst; it was obvious Nick had some sort of romantic interest in her, but she had to admit, it was kind of fun to see him squirm like this. She could feel her insides doing cartwheels and backflips at the mere thought of Nick wanting her, though. It wasn't clear to her when it started, but by this point, she didn't care. She decided that before she make any sort of move, she first wanted to hear something from him. This is gonna take my best dumb bunny routine yet, she thought.
"One thing though, Nick," she began. Nick peeked at her from under his paw. "Why be so jealous of Cam in the first place? I don't understand."
Nick's mouth fell open. "W-what do you mean you don't understand? Are you serious?" he asked. Judy maintained composure and simply nodded. "All of that, and it's still not clear?"
Judy turned to face him, making sure her eyes never left his face. His gaze darted around, trying to avoid hers, but she stayed firm. "Nick, just be honest with me, please," she said and put on her best cute bunny face. She knew it was cute; she'd practiced dozens of time in front of the mirror. Proud as she was, Judy was aware she was cute, and wasn't above using it to her advantage now and again.
Nick stared at her twitching nose and her wide eyes and felt the foundation of any dignity remaining crumble away.
"Oh, for… I love you, Carrots! Sickeningly in love with you! In fact, I think I always have been! Maybe even from when we first met, during the Nighthowler case! I don't know, there, I said it!" he shouted. Once his words were in the air, he flopped his paws back onto his face in shame. Oh, gods, here it comes, he thought.
There was no night sky for Judy at that moment. Instead, the stars had shifted to become exploding fireworks. She'd never felt so warm in all her life, at least not since finally graduating from the academy, though it was clear this was so much better than even that.
She let several moments pass between them. After all, there's no going back after this, she thought.
"About time," she said, and leaned forward to gently press her lips against Nick's. The kiss lasted just a moment, but it was enough time for Nick's eyes to shoot open and for him immediately spring up.
"Woah, woah, woah, woah, hold up," Nick said, staring at her. The smirk on her face spread as she gave him a knowing look. "You… you knew?"
Judy stood up on the tips of her toes and leaned next to his ear. "It's called a hustle, sweetheart," she whispered, and gave him another peck on the cheek.
The engine in Nick's brain completely broke. He swore he could feel his synapses firing one by one, and he was fairly confident he could no longer feel the ground beneath him. It was a completely foreign, alien feeling to him, and he needed to feel it more.
"I- you-, I m-mean, how- I don't-" Nick sputtered. He knew he sounded like a complete idiot, though that was the least of his concerns at that moment.
Judy let him stew in his own confusion for a few seconds longer before offering, "Why don't you just hug me? I'd say that's a good place to start."
Nick nodded simply and leaned forward to embrace her, feeling her fur on his paws unlike he'd ever before. He started laughing, quietly at first, but growing and growing before it echoed between the buildings and his stomach started hurting. Judy joined in just moments after he started, and the two had to sit down after nearly doubling over in hysterics. All the stress and tension Nick had felt over the last few days flew out of his muzzle and into the air above Savanna Central.
The pair collapsed on the steps next to one another, stray giggles occasionally finding their way out of their mouths.
"O-oh, ow, oh geez, I think I needed that," Nick said, clutching at his stomach. "I don't know whether to be outraged as the victim of the best hustle I've ever seen, or be ecstatic you don't think I'm weird for being into you."
Into her, yeah, that's one way of putting it, Nick thought. Even though he'd already admitted it, it still felt a little strange coming out of his mouth.
"I don't know why you'd assume I'd think it was weird," Judy replied, turning to face him. "Plenty of mammals are into pred-prey stuff."
Nick cocked an eyebrow. "Oh, yeah? Name some that aren't Cam."
"Well, Clawhauser definitely is," Judy began.
"Woah, hold up, Spots is into prey?" he asked.
Judy shrugged. "You don't go on Chitter that often, do you? He's always talking about his dates and love life and stuff."
"Sounds like the reason I don't go on too much," Nick muttered. "But whatever, that's only one mammal."
"Well, there's the lynx from the bakery that I hooked up with Cam," she said. "In fact, I bet they're on a date right now."
Nick conceded her point. "Okay, that's two."
Judy paused before speaking again. "...And there's a certain hardboiled bunny cop on the ZPD that may or may not be interested in knowing what a strong predator feels like. You know, plenty of average, everyday folks are into it."
If Nick had been drinking anything, his sputtering would have made a legendary spit-take. He stared at Judy, his face covered in uncertainty in what to say.
"Well, I guess not any predator, but there is a particular fox that she's really interested in," she said. She leaned forward and pressed her lips to Nick's again, but didn't pull away this time. Nick felt the warmth of her body against his and instinctively wrapped his arms around her, holding her in close to him. Judy's lips parted and she felt one of Nick's canine's with her tongue, causing her to shiver. Her comparatively small paws made their way to Nick's head, slowly stroking down his neck and digging into his fur.
The two separated after several seconds, though it could have been hours for all Nick knew. He was surprised to find himself panting, and even more surprised to see Judy was, too. The two locked eyes before Nick looked away. She felt so soft and small in his arms, and he became acutely aware of his fangs and claws. He thought of her apartment just a few floors up, and the privacy it would provide, but then looked back down at the loving gaze Judy was giving him. "I… I really don't want to mess this up," he said quietly. "I don't know what I should do next."
Judy felt a blooming warmth spread throughout her body at his words. "Don't worry, Nick, you're doing everything right," she said.
This earned a weak smile from Nick. "Heh, it's kinda different hearing you say my name now."
"In a good way, I mean. Here, I bet it's different for you, watch. Thanks, Judy, you're amazing."
Her ears stood up straight hearing Nick use her name so casually; he'd never said her name like that before. She had to admit, he was right. Hearing him say her name now was different. "Y-yeah, you're right, I kinda like it. You don't say my name that often."
"Well, I can start, if you want," he said. "I can start right now, even. Judy, Judy, Judy, Judy, Judy, Judy-"
Her cheeks burned with every subsequent mention of her name. "Ahah, you can just stick with the nicknames most of the time, that's okay."
Nick smirked, which somehow felt right to him, like the natural order had been restored. "Whatever you say, Fluff. I'll save Judy for when I want to see you get flustered like you were right now."
The two sat in comfortable silence, looking at the sky in between stealing glances at each other. "I guess we gotta take the car back, huh," Nick said, breaking the quiet.
"Yeah, I guess so. I should probably start heading to bed, too, if I'm going to get your favorite coffee in the morning," she said with a small smile. "Wait," she said, her smile vanishing with a sudden realization. "If you're dropping the car off, how are you gonna get back to your apartment?"
Nick thought a moment. "I'll just get a taxi or that one car ride app thing," he said.
"Zuber?" she asked.
"That's the one."
She shook her head. "No, that's silly," she said. "I already let you pay for dinner, I don't want you to do this, too."
Nick shrugged. "Well, I don't really have any other ideas. Our cruiser is back at the station, remember?"
Judy tapped her foot trying to think of another way. "Ugh, I can't think of anything," she sighed after a while. "I just…"
"Just what? C'mon, Carrots, don't leave me hanging."
"I don't want tonight to end," she whispered, looking intently at his eyes.
"I, um, I don't want it to end either, to be honest," he said. He rubbed the back of his head and absentmindedly tugged on one of his ears. "But we gotta get the car back."
Judy nodded and sighed once more. The pair stood up off the steps, and Judy quickly wrapped Nick up in a tight hug. "Woah, don't worry, Fluff, I'll see you all day tomorrow," Nick cooed. He put his arms around her and stayed there for several moments. "Do you wanna, I don't know, grab some dinner or a movie or something after work tomorrow?" he asked.
She looked up at him with a smile spreading across her face. "Yeah, I'd like that," she said.
The pair reluctantly separated and Judy handed him the keys. She opened up the door behind her but stopped when she heard the roadster's driver door open. "Actually, I think I'd like that more right now," she said.
She whirled to face him. Nick had stopped and closed the door to the car. "Huh?" he replied.
"Well, I mean I have lots of movies up in my apartment," she said. "And I have popcorn and a microwave. I don't know if you're a fan of bad horror B-movies or not-"
Nick's eyes widened. "Are you kidding? I love that schlocky crap. Where do you think I get my acting chops from?"
That warranted a giggle from Judy. "Well, Roberto did say the car had to be back by 5 a.m., and it's not even midnight right now," she said. "Do you, I don't know, wanna come upstairs and watch bad movies with me?"
Nick hit the lock button on the key fab, and the car beeped with certainty. He tried to think of something witty to say, something worthy of the legendary conman Nick Wilde, but all he could get was, "Yeah, I'd like that a lot, Judy."
Her inner ears turned bright pink at the mention of her name again, though she rather liked it this time around. "Okay! We'll deal with the car later. I'll go get the popcorn started," she said, and turned to bound up the stairs of her apartment complex. Nick craned his neck slightly to watch her tail bob and bounce as she ascended the stairs, and it was then he became aware of the soreness in his cheeks from smiling so much. "Nick Wilde, you are one smooth operator," he said before tripping over the curb and nearly landing face first on the pavement. He shot up and looked around to ensure no one saw. Seeing no one, he dusted himself off and ran up the stairs, faster and more excited than he was willing to admit.